From Serval to Barkhane: the French counter-terrorism strategy in Mali
Operation Barkhane, a new military counter-terrorism mission, has been operational since 1 August 2014led by French that will expand and replace the tasks of Serval, the operation launched by Paris in January 2013 in Mali to stop the advance of Tuareg rebels and aQIM and MuJaO jihadists in the country, and of Epervier in Chad, active since 1986 to foil a coup d’état, supported by Gaddafi’s Libya, against the then president Hissène Habré. Basically the two missions were merged to make Barkhane. The new French mission aims precisely to counter militant terrorism in the Sahelo-Saharan belt. Barkhane expects the presence of 3000 French soldiers – of which a thousand are deployed in Gao, Mali, and another 1200 in N’Djamena, Chad – which over the next few months will be deployed between Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad – French-speaking countries belonging to the G5 political-economic partnership – and will have its headquarters in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena. Other regional bases, equivalent to a sort of deputy staff of N’Djamena, will be established in Gao (Mali), Niamey (Niger) and Ouagadougou (Burkina Faso), while the advanced operational bases will be located in Faya-Largeau (Chad), Madama (far north of Niger) and Tessalit (north of Mali on the border with Algeria), the latter all centers already crossed by phenomena of jihadist terrorism. Tactically, the troops will be composed of small squadrons (30-50 people) made up of elements of the special forces and theFrench intelligence able to move more smoothly and quickly from one country to another. The forces on the ground will be equipped with three drones, six fighters, 20 helicopters, ten transport aircraft, more than 200 vehicles and will use reliable local informants. The mission, which will have no time limits, is led by French general Jean-Pierre Palasset, formerly in command of the Licorne operation in the Ivory Coast in 2010-11 and of the headquarters of the French forces in Afghanistan in 2011-12
The Algiers Peace Process
Following some exploratory meetings, negotiations for the pacification of northern Mali officially opened in Algiers in July 2014. Under the Algerian mediation and with the participation of the EU, the central government of Bamako and the three autonomist groups of Azawad, signatories of the preliminary agreements of June of the same year, sat at the negotiating table: Mnla, Maa, Hcua. However, the first problems emerged precisely on the admission to negotiations of three other independence movements in the north (the Cpa, the Cmfpr and another branch of the Maa) which, despite not having signed the June charter of the same year, in the following July they recognized the Algiers trial. The latter were finally admitted, but the controversy over their inclusion slowed down the negotiators’ work. New problems have emerged on the structure that the negotiation should assume. Some independence groups have insisted on putting the achievement of a real autonomy of the Azawad and the political-institutional issues that go with it before other issues (such as the pacification of the north and security). According to indexdotcom, the two sides did not agree on the type of autonomy that the north of the country should enjoy: the ‘federal’ request of the autonomists clashed with the offer of ‘regionalization and progressive decentralization’ instead advanced by Bamako. The absence of some key figures weighed on the effectiveness of the negotiations: Iyad al-Ghaly, for example, the charismatic leader of the Islamists of Ansar al-Din, did not participate in the table in Algiers, partially invalidating the validity of the negotiations. On the Malian side, civil society, invited to take part in the trial, left Algiers for the first important discussions. In this sense, there was a strong interest of Algerian diplomacy in sacrificing representativeness in the name of the speed of the process. The combination of these problems caused the opening of negotiations to be postponed to September 2014, which had however lost that inclusive character of the multiple opposing realities of the north and south of Mali, from which the preliminary agreement of Ouagadougou of June 2013 drew strength.. In reverse, only the central government of Bamako and the political movements of the north with a strong military connotation remained represented in Algiers (actually part of the very problem that the negotiations aimed to solve). The preliminary text that came out of the Algiers table, which should serve as the basis for the final peace agreement, was affected by the structural limitations of the negotiation and was therefore strongly criticized by all the parties involved. The document traced the existing fractures on the negotiation to a mere north-south (or center-periphery) opposition, ignoring the relevant internal fractures of the respective parties (the structural problems and corruption of the central government, or the counterproductive impact of the presence of militias in the north).