« To get out of the quagmire in the Sahel, it is urgent to rethink our strategy. » This is the title of a column published in the daily « Le Monde », by the French general Bruno Clément-Bollée who is now an international consultant on security in Africa. At the microphone of Carine Frenk, it poses an uncompromising diagnosis on Barkhane and G5 Sahel.
RFI: France is bogged down in the Sahel. Barkhane is conspired. This is the statement you make …
Bruno Clément-Bollée: Yes. It’s a bit of a fact that I draw up and I think I’m not the only one to draw it up. We can see, and you have seen this weekend, that the record continues to be appalling. One wonders where are we going. And it is all the more surprising that the international forces are still in number, between the Minusma [UN Mission in Mali], between Barkhane [French force], between G5 Sahel [Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad], between Eucap Sahel [European Mission] or EUTM [Training Mission of the European Union] and company. What I observe is the feeling that these forces have lost the initiative and that in fact the masters of the field today are the Islamists. It is they who decide the clashes, when they are made, where they are made. They have, what is called in military term « taken the initiative ». And that, for forces that are in place and fighting, it is extremely worrying because the loss of initiative, it is the doubt, the doubt that begins to creep.
And it is true that today, Barkhane is very criticized, more and more criticized …
Yes, Barkhane is criticized. But why ? It is a question in my opinion of perception of the population. I know that Barkhane does his job very well, under extremely difficult operational and logistical conditions. And I assure you that I did a lot of operations. It was a daily performance, performed every day. This is not to blame, in my opinion. What I observe is the perception of the population. Why ? Because the population is fed up with the deteriorating security situation, especially the negligence of international forces. Me, I observe that when there is a dramatic event happening on the ground that Barkhane is there or not, systematically, because perhaps it is a little symbolic, it is conspired. What I fear is that Barkhane, one day, will be forced to leave, not for security reasons, not on security pressures, but on popular pressures, because the very idea of our presence will become unbearable in the eyes of the people. And we will have to leave. Which would be dramatic in my opinion because we know what would happen at that moment. Then there may be a second thing that can be observed, but that is related to all this: as the population is desperate and she finds that these forces can no longer protect her, they recruit militia. , militias who are armed of course, who are absolutely untrained, who are totally uncontrolled. And that, we know where it leads. When it is well instrumentalized, it leads to interethnic clashes. And this is dramatic.
Today, states seem like paralyzed?
Yes. In any case, it is strategists who find that we are in a quagmire and then that can not find a solution, if not to exploit, to add to the military dimension. But we know that it leads to nothing. That’s not the answer. So it does not move forward. We do not know how to fix the situation.
« Then France must rethink its strategy. You have to give way to local actors, « you write. What do you mean by that ?
For me, it is obvious that the situation in the Sahel only belongs to the Sahelian countries and first of all to them. We have to put that in our head. It is from this that we can define a new strategy. And that requires at that moment to accept four requirements: it is first of all to trust, to trust in their strategy and not to ours; secondly, it is to give means to get back to political, security, economic and social level; it is to accompany; finally, it’s patience, because it’s going to be very long.
Should France withdraw her fighters or not?
No, France must not withdraw its fighters, but put them in the second curtain, that is to say that we are in support and not in the front line.
This implies that the armies of the countries concerned are up to the task. They are also criticized for their inefficiency, the abuses, the corruption, the exactions …
So, that means that at the security level, we have to help them to upgrade to the same standard as us: training, equipment, projection equipment, support. We must really help them. Then, it will be very long. They must imagine military reconquest. We are here. They no longer hold the ground. No one else is holding the ground.
Do we have time to give ourselves twenty years, thirty years, fifty years?
But because you reason according to our Western mentalities, immediacy: we want everything right away. Do not dream. You have seen the situation in the Sahel. It will take a lot of time. We must rebuild everything. We must win everything back. You must not fool yourself. Then on that, in the equation, we must also add the increasing demographic pressure, all the organized crime that is happening in these areas, drug trafficking, clandestine migration, and so on. It’s very complicated. But there is a time when we will have to really get started because, given the balance sheets we are getting used to, it will end up with popular pressure that will be intolerable and, in my opinion, justified.