Political turmoil in Sahel could undermine anti-terror gains, France warns UNGA 2021

Sahel has experienced four coups in 13 months, two of them in Mali.

France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian addresses the 76th session of UN General Assembly, in a recorded message. Photo: UNTV
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France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told the UN General Assembly on Monday that French engagement in the Sahel would continue after Paris ends its seven-year military mission, but said that continued political turmoil risked unravelling any counter-terrorism gains.

The Sahel region has experienced four coups in 13 months, two of them in Mali.

France has, since 2013, led military missions seeking to root out extremism in West Africa. Initially focused on Mali, then-president Francois Hollande broadened the scope of the operation to the whole of the Sahel under Operation Barkhane in 2014.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced in July that the mission would wind down early next year.

Mr Le Drian said however that France would continue “to remain fully available to our international partners” in the Sahel.

He warned the UN General Assembly that French military efforts to combat terrorism in the Sahel would not be “sustainable without political stability and respect for the democratic process".

“I particularly have in mind the timetable for elections in Mali, which must be strictly observed,” he said in a video statement.

Mr Le Drian said France’s military presence in the region had paid off, pointing to the recent killing of Adnan Abu Walid Al Sahrawi, the leader of ISIS's Sahara affiliate.

Al Sahrawi was responsible for several attacks, including a 2017 attack on a joint US-Nigerian patrol in Tongo Tongo that killed four Americans and four Nigerians.

Mali's progress back to democracy following the August 2020 overthrow of former president Ibrahim Boubacar Keita is being closely monitored.

Under pressure from the Economic Community of West African States (Ecowas), Mali's new military leaders agreed to an 18-month transition that would culminate in presidential and legislative elections on February 27, 2022.

Mr Le Drian also spoke about Iran, saying it was imperative that Tehran not be allowed to “think any longer that time is on its side because the more dangerous its nuclear programme becomes, the greater the risk of a major crisis".

Updated: September 27, 2021, 9:03 PM