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Operation Serval and Barkhane, Overview and What’s Next?

Mali’s conflict has never been under spotlight until France launched its military intervention. France has two operations focused in Sahel regions involving five countries including Mali in order to contaminate terrorist attack. The islamic militants consisted from MOJWA, AQIM, Ansar Dine, and Boko Haram. The first operation named Serval, inspired by medium-sized African wild cat species Serval. Operation Barkhane is its successor which still ongoing until now. The operation is named after a crescent-shaped dune in the Sahara desert. These operations created by French not only for the sake of implementing France’s duty as UN Security Council permanent member, but also for some mutual economic relations, respects, and the country influence in its ex-colonies countries. But, how much this conflict costs French’s military, economy, and politics aspects? How successful these operations actually seen from different perspectives? Will there be the third operation, or new threat upcoming? This writing is trying to figure out anything that future may hold.

French in Mali’s Conflict: The Achievements and Price to Pay

It is clear France’s intentions to be involved in this conflict can be seen despite it never floated to the surface. The price which French paid was a proof about how benefited the mission for itself. But, it follows that France’s objectives, as announced by Hollande on January 11, were threefold:

1. Stop the terrorist aggression.

2. Secure a country in which there are many thousand French people.

3. Permit Mali to recover its territorial integrity.

Serval refers to a 2013 operation in which France intervened in Mali following the country’s request for assistance in the ousting of Islamic militants. Barkhane is France’s latest military endeavor in Africa, another counter-terrorist operation stretching from Mauritania to Chad that aims at limiting the mobility of jihadists in the region.

From Operation Serval to Operation Barkhane, thousands of French troops deployed into warzone to maintain peace in Mali. Since 2012 to January 2013, four thousand French troops were deployed to Mali as part of Operation Serval, following the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2085 in December 2012 and an official request from the Malian interim government for French assistance. France’s so-called “Serval” operation in Mali counts 4,600 soldiers, 3,500 of which are serving on the ground. Until the end of Serval’s mission, France’s effort to reclaim northern Mali from armed rebels, including hard-line Islamists, has cost an average of 2.7 million euros per day since it was launched on January 11. That figure compared to an average cost of 1.6 million euros per day for the intervention that toppled Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, and 1.4 million euros per day for the NATO-led war in Afghanistan, Le Parisien daily reported.

On 15 July 2014, Serval was ended due to the complete re-capture of all Islamist held territory by the operations conclusion. Nevertheless, Mali was plagued by ethnic, social and economic fractures. Arguably the most important of these has been the conflict between the Tuareg, a large, nomadic ethnic group situated in northern Mali, southern Algeria and Western Niger, and the sedentary peoples of southern Mali. The Tuareg do not constitute a majority in Mali’s north nor have they formed a united front against the government in Bamako. Within the complex federation of Tuareg tribes, several factions have historically fought for more autonomy from the capital, while others were co-opted by Bamako through a policy of divide and rule.

After Serval, France recognised the need to provide stability in the wider Sahel region by helping the region’s various governments combat terrorism. Barkhane costs the French taxpayer some €600m ($700m) a year. It is made up of 4,500 soldiers fighting Islamist groups in Mali and, to a lesser extent, in Burkina Faso and Niger. Its zone of operations is nearly as big as western Europe. Twelve Barkhane soldiers have died since 2014. The operation is “to become the French pillar of counterterrorism in the Sahel region.”

Since it was started on 1 August 2014 until recently now, the operation countered many pshycal contact with terrorist remained in such areas. In 2014, French forces experienced their first major success of Barkhane in December 2014 with the killing of Ahmed al-Tilemsi, the leader of the Al-Mourabitoun jihadist group, by French special forces during a raid in the deserts of northern Mali. Also the battle on November resulted 24 jihadist dead. But, this year resulted several French special forces soldier was killed. In 2015 and 2016, at least five french army were killed most by landmines. Another French soldier was killed on 4 November 2016 following the explosion of a mine near the town of Abeibara, making 2016 the deadliest year for French forces participating in Barkhane. Later on 2017, the battle continued with US support. From 2018 to 2019, the clash still raging on with both G5, UN supported by US and British army and the jihadist group.

Expenditures and french army’s life are not the only thing bills French sides, but also the impact of this intervention contributes another post-cause called instability and anti-democracy. Despite these military successes, however, Operation Barkhane may be doing more harm than good, since it provides crucial support to the repressive governments that are at the heart of the Sahel’s problems. By bolstering governments that prey on their populations, France’s interventions increase the potential for unrest, rebellion, and even jihadist-inspired terrorism. As such, France should work with governments and local civil society groups across the Sahel to facilitate this kind of peacemaking. At the same time, France should avoid undermining these peace processes by limiting its support for repressive governments.

The Third Operation Potential

So far, there is nowhere that France would bring another operation succeeding Barkhane. Nevertheless, everything could be changed if French motives in Mali undiscovered clearly. We can put a question like this, what is French’s truly intention? Fighting terrorist or political rebels? Whatever we think of their past and current politics, however, the UFR has little to do with the jihadist armed groups in the Sahel and Lake Chad basin that France is purportedly in the region to combat. Chadian rebels, who found refuge in Libya and made alliances with other armed groups there and in Sudan, are driven by politics not ideology.

As such, France should work with governments and local civil society groups across the Sahel to facilitate this kind of peacemaking. At the same time, France should avoid undermining these peace processes by limiting its support for repressive governments. In Chad, that will require scaling down French military cooperation with the Déby regime, and in Mali, it will require refocusing French military efforts on assisting MINUSMA, the UN Peacekeeping Operation. (France should continue to monitor the region’s truly dangerous terrorist groups, such as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.)

Given the vital importance of demilitarizing domestic politics in Chad and Mali, France should do more to fund and monitor demobilization programs for local militias and other armed groups. It should also increase funding for organizations promoting government accountability, provide funding and training to independent press outlets, and push for more equitable trade relations between regional states and the EU. None of these actions would decisively stabilize the Sahel, but they are far more likely to lead to lasting gains, however small, than is the current approach.

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