France has been turning up the diplomatic pressure on the United States in an effort to continue American involvement in counterterrorism operations in sub-Saharan Africa. The Pentagon provides in-air refueling for French aircraft as well as intelligence gathering through its network of drone bases in the region, though this may change, going by comments from American officials speaking off the record.
As the United States considers a global troop redeployment and possible drawdown, the question has been raised whether Africa is a necessary theater of operations. France has warned that a lack of US troop presence and intelligence sharing will significantly undercut their ability to fight Al-Qaida and Islamic State-affiliated terror groups operating in the Sahel region. French president Emmanuel Macron’s sent his national security advisor and a delegation led by his Africa policy advisor to meet with their American counterparts on January 23. And the French defense minister Florence Parly spoke at the Pentagon on Monday, January 27, to make the case for continued American involvement.
Despite France being involved in West Africa since 2013, first to dislodge jihadist terrorists occupying Mali’s north before expanding operations to counter terror threats in the surrounding region, attacks against African security forces and French military outposts have increased in frequency and intensity. There seems to be no clear path to victory against the terror groups operating in the region, which has become part of the calculation for the United States to commit fewer resources to the fight.
African citizens of the G5 Sahel countries—Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania—have become frustrated with continuing French occupation, leading to protests and a growing anti-French sentiment, which spurred Macron to summon the leaders of the G5 Sahel to meet in France and “clarify” their positions regarding French military action. The G5 Sahel heads of state issued a joint statement affirming their desire for France to stay on and encourage the United States to continue its support.