The Sahel: Europe’s forever war?

This report from UK think tank the Centre for European Reform looks at Europe’s long-term involvement in conflict in the Sahel.

Despite Europe’s long-term involvement, conflict in the Sahel has continued to escalate and spread southwards. The Sahel includes the five states of the ‘G5 Sahel’, a regional security grouping: Mali, Niger, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad. Migrants crossing the Mediterranean often originate from or pass through the region, and groups affiliated with al-Qaida and Islamic State have a notable presence there. Europe’s current military-focused approach, pioneered by France, has achieved little more than tactical victories against jihadists. By supporting governments that are feared and mistrusted by many of their citizens, Europe may be undermining its own aim of curbing violence, argues Katherine Pye.

The author analyses Europe’s involvement in the Sahel and its strategic importance. While France leads military engagement with Opération Barkhane, the EU has longstanding commitments there and other member-states are playing a more active role. The UK recently sent 300 soldiers to the UN’s peacekeeping mission in Mali. Europe’s approach so far has focused on bolstering the Sahel’s state security forces and governments to fight terrorist groups. However these same forces are carrying out illegal killings among certain communities which is driving recruitment to jihadist groups. In 2020, more civilians were killed by national security forces than jihadists in Mali and Burkina Faso. Corruption scandals and a lack of government accountability are also causing civil unrest in the region, which was exemplified by last year’s mass protests and military coup in Mali, Katherine Pye argues.


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