Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso – Boubacar Dialo* said he can only recall the French army’s visit to his town of Tin-Akof in December 2020.
“They spent a whole day there visiting the market,” said local officials in the northern town of Burkina Faso. “They came to the store in an armored car. They went to the bull market.”
With a population of approximately 9,000 in peacetime, Tin-Akof is located on the Pele River on the border of Burkina Faso and Mali and Niger. As the region knows, the three-nation border is at the center of a multi-year conflict between the national army in the western part of the African Sahel and armed groups associated with ISIL and Al-Qaida.
On June 10, French President Macron Announce His country’s seven-year military operation “Operation Crescent Dune” in the Sahel is coming to an end, indicating that the troops will downsize and reorganize their presence in the area.
The vast majority of Barkhane’s 5,100 soldiers are operating in the border areas of the three countries. But France does not have a military base in Burkina Faso, so the country’s military patrols are often carried out outside Mali.
Diallo said that in the weeks following the French army’s visit, Tin Akov’s security situation improved, but then it deteriorated again, and it was worse than ever.
“The situation in Tin-Akof has gotten worse recently,” Diallo told Al Jazeera on the phone in Gorom Gorom, the main town closest to Tin-Akof, where he fled three months ago.
As government officials fled, Tin-Akof became lawless. Diallo said he himself suffered from “fear and mental illness.”
“Terrorists have strangled the area. There is no more market, so vehicles no longer come and there is no work. [fighters] Just come to rob our animals, kidnap the people they are looking for and leave. It has now reached the point of burning down the entire village. “
When asked what he thought of the prospect of the French leaving, he said: “I think it’s not good for the people here. We are only three kilometers away from the Mali border. If the French are not in Mali, it may mean that we will have More terrorists are here.”
Earlier this month, Macron suspended joint operations between French and Malian soldiers in response to the military coup in Bamako, the second time in nine months.
Statistically, the Balkans have done little to quell violence in the Sahel.
Data from the Armed Conflict and Incident Data Project shows that since the start of Operation Crescent Dune in 2014, the number of deaths in the conflicts in Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger has increased from 2014 after the French army helped repel fighters advancing in Mali. Of 456 people rose to 6,276 in 2020-an increase of 1,376%.
Burkina Faso Biggest attack Since the beginning of the conflict in the village of Solhan earlier this month, dozens of people have died and the country’s public perception of security is getting worse. A series of protests against insecurity took place last weekend.
‘There are more questions than answers’
However, analysts said that it is not yet clear what the end of Operation Crescent Grass actually means. Although it may only be a French rebranding activity, it may lead to more profound changes.
“At this point, there are more questions than answers,” said Judd De Vermont, director of the Africa Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a US think tank. “France’s footprint will shrink, but with the support of Operation Taquba, it will still be part of the G5 Sahel joint force or European partners, and participate through its Sahel partners, and through their participation.”
The leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger created the G5 Sahel force in 2014 to help deal with a range of challenges, including the growing threat from armed groups. At the same time, France hopes that Takuba can fill the void left by its withdrawal from the area, which was supposed to summon troops from the European Union to provide security in the Sahel.
However, so far, the enthusiasm of European partners for Taquba is not high.
De Vermont said that although the White House recently changed its government, the United States is unlikely to increase its involvement in the Sahel.
“The French will continue to be an integral part of the fight against terrorism, although only behind the scenes, and only in extreme situations will take the center,” he predicted.
Andrew Lebovich, a policy researcher at the European Council on External Relations (ECFR) and expert on the conflict in the Sahel, expects “significant changes” but adds that “they will be gradual.”
“All of this will have an impact… but France’s involvement in Burkina Faso is lower than Mali or even Niger.”
Some Burkina Faso interviewed by Al Jazeera said that if the French left, they could see Russia fill the vacuum. But Lebovich said he thinks “this is a bit far-fetched.”
“Russia certainly has a presence in the Sahel, but it is not as consistent as it is in the Central African Republic, and is not driven by interests as it is in the Central African Republic… I certainly don’t think Russia wants or tries to occupy a space like France. “
Tin-Akof’s other displaced citizens without a mobile phone network told Al Jazeera that France’s presence in and outside the town is almost the same, and the news of the end of Barkhane is unlikely to change much.
But before Tin Akov fled the town, a senior official of the Tin Akov government said: “Since Bahani was founded, everything has been reasonable. When the French are there, there is a sense of security. When they left, the attacks multiplied. They killed many terrorists.”
French officials are expected to provide more details this week on how the crescent-shaped dunes will be reorganized or reduced in size.