► “The jihadists have not spectacularly strengthened their territorial hold”
Jean-Hervé Jézéquel, director of the Sahel project at International Crisis Group (ICG)
“In the Sahel, the situation has not improved since the departure of French soldiers, but it had already deteriorated significantly in Mali and Burkina Faso in their presence. Let us say that we are rather witnessing an acceleration in this process of deterioration and a change in the nature of violence. Civilians are in fact increasingly targeted by conflict actors. The modes of engagement of government forces seem to have changed: there is less restraint, particularly among pro-government volunteers in Burkina Faso or among Wagner’s paramilitaries in Mali. Entire villages, suspected of collusion with jihadist groups, may be the subject of punitive expeditions.
But we cannot say that jihadist groups have spectacularly strengthened their territorial hold in the Sahel. In Mali, in particular, the State was already absent from entire areas of the country. Furthermore, although the jihadists have strengthened their capacity to surround major cities such as Timbuktu, they do not control them. Since the departure of the Barkhane force, they have moved more easily but no new region, no city has fallen into their hands. They are not about to establish a caliphate in the Sahel zone, although this option cannot be ruled out in the years to come.
We note that the troops in Bamako, supported by Wagner, are making more contact than in the past with armed groups, without however managing to truly regain control of substantial territories from the jihadists. The proximity between Malian soldiers and Russian paramilitaries seems stronger than with Barkhane. But Wagner, no more than Barkhane, has the solution to stem the violence in the Sahel. More than the withdrawal of the French, it is the resumption of the conflict which is emerging in the north of Mali between armed separatist groups and the forces of Bamako which can change the situation.
In Niger, jihadist groups attacked government forces less than in the past due to the dialogue initiated by deposed president Mohamed Bazoum. Just after the putsch of July 26, several bloody attacks took place against the troops of Niamey. However, we cannot speak of a stampede. It is clear that the Nigerien soldiers are largely focused on what is happening in the capital, that the front has become somewhat thinner, and that they are less present on the ground. Especially since the blockade decreed by the States of the region weighs on the means available to the army to patrol. The situation is therefore rather favorable to jihadist groups. »
► “In the Sahel, we are engaged in a suicidal logic”
Rahmane Idrissa, Nigerian researcher in political science at the Center for African Studies at the University of Leiden (Netherlands)
“The departure of French soldiers risks making things even worse. Certainly, we do not have any research to truly assess the impact of the French presence in Niger, but we can still reason based on a set of clues. Let’s look, for example, in Mali, where the junta also obtained the departure of French soldiers after nine years of fighting against terrorism in the country. The French soldiers were concentrated in the north, especially in the Gao region. However, it seems obvious to me that security was better in this part of the country than in the center. The correlation is very strong. Especially since after the departure of French soldiers, the situation deteriorated considerably in northern Mali and jihadist pressure increased in the Liptako-Gourma region, which became the epicenter of the crisis. . We can also take the case of neighboring Burkina Faso, where attacks increased after the putsch of Captain Ibrahim Traoré, who also broke defense agreements with France.
In Niger, since the military came to power, I have heard from local residents who report a deterioration of the security situation in certain regions, particularly in the Tillabéri area, on the border with Mali and Burkina Faso. Faso. But the junta does not communicate about these attacks or manipulates communication to prevent these incidents from tarnishing the image of the army.
In Niger, the action of the French military was integrated into the general strategy of the deposed authorities. President Mohamed Bazoum had integrated a dialogue component into the military action. This strategy had led a certain number of Nigerien fighters from jihadist groups to surrender their arms. The junta does not seem to have a strategy in this direction. On the contrary, General Tiani even criticized, during his first speech, the release of certain jihadists under the old regime. He therefore seems to want to distance himself from this path of dialogue. We also know that the junta has withdrawn some of its soldiers from areas of insecurity to redeploy them on other fronts, to cope in the event of military intervention by ECOWAS. This is a boon for jihadist groups, who will logically try to take advantage of this opportunity.
The junta took power by force, justifying its coup by “the deterioration of the security situation”, except that it says nothing about what it will do to resolve these problems… I don’t see any theory change. This is very worrying for Niger and the future of the region, which appears very bleak. In the Sahel, we have engaged in a suicidal logic, opting for isolation and resolute support for a purely military solution to a multidimensional crisis. »