France to downsize Military presence in Africa

France intends to reduce the number of its forces stationed in West and Central Africa to around 600 troops, in compliance with President Emmanuel Macron’s policy of limiting the country’s military presence on the continent, AFP reported on Monday, citing sources.

According to the outlet, citing two government officials and a military source, all of whom requested anonymity, Paris will maintain only about 100 troops in the Central African state of Gabon – down from the 350 currently there – and around 300 personnel in Chad – down from 1,000.

In Cote d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast) and Senegal, where there are contingents of 600 and 350 forces, respectively, Paris reportedly plans to downsize to around 100 troops in each of the West African nations.

President Macron announced a “noticeable reduction” in France’s military presence in Africa early last year, amid a wave of anti-French sentiment in several former colonies, particularly in the Sahel region, where its soldiers had been deployed to combat Islamist militants.

France had over 5,000 troops in the Sahel region as part of Operation Barkhane, a decade-long counter-insurgency mission that ended in late 2022 when Paris withdrew its army from Mali due to a breakdown in relations following Bamako’s May 2021 coup.

Protests against the European country have grown in recent years, sparked by alleged military shortcomings and accusations of interference in the internal affairs of former colonies.

In December 2022, Paris withdrew troops from the Central African Republic (CAR), citing an alleged closer relationship between the African country and Russia.

Several other former French colonies on the continent, including Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger, have canceled military partnerships with Paris and turned to Moscow for assistance in combating terrorism.

The Sahel has been plagued by Islamic extremism since 2011, following a NATO intervention on behalf of insurgents in Libya.

Last August, a group of French lawmakers wrote to Macron, expressing their dissatisfaction with France’s African policy failures, which they claim have resulted in deteriorating relations with former colonies.

The legislators asked the president to review his government’s strategies on the “friendly continent” in order to correct misunderstandings about Paris’ role and presence.

Jean-Marie Bockel, the French special envoy to Africa, who Macron has tasked with negotiating the new modalities of the French military presence with African partners, told the Senate last month that Paris wanted to “reduce its visible presence” on the continent.

It will, however, “maintain logistical, human, and material access to these countries while reinforcing our action in response to their aspirations,” Bockel has said.

According to two sources who spoke with AFP, the French army plans to establish a Paris-based command dedicated to Africa this summer.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *