Jean Castex will spend New Year’s Eve with the French soldiers. The French Prime Minister arrived in Chad on Thursday for a visit to support the troops of the Barkhane anti-terrorism force. The head of government, of which this is the first major international trip, must also discuss with the Chadian head of state Idriss Déby in Amdjarass (east) for an hour for a “general interview”, according to his services.
Among the hottest issues is the future of French military engagement in the Sahel, while three soldiers died Monday in Mali in the explosion of an artisanal mine. The Prime Minister will pay tribute to them Thursday evening in a speech delivered at Camp Kosseï in N’Djamena, the command center of the Barkhane force. He will then wake up with soldiers among the 800 stationed on this base, which is piloting operations throughout the Sahelo-Saharan strip.
Visit to soldiers deployed in the north and east of the country
Jean Castex will also go on Friday to meet the contingents positioned in Faya-Largeau (north), an oasis facing Libya, then in Abéché (east), an important economic center and military lock not far from the Sudanese border. But the Prime Minister will in all likelihood provide little indication of the future physiognomy of Barkhane, currently composed of 5,100 men but having reached a new strategic turning point.
“Clear directions”, according to Matignon, are expected at a summit in early 2021 in N’Djaména bringing together France and its G5 Sahel partners (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad) engaged in the fight anti-terrorism.
France relies on the rise of local forces
This meeting will mark the first anniversary of the Pau summit which had refocused the objectives on the area known as the “three borders” (Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso), with several tactical successes to the key, in particular against the Islamic State in Grand Sahara (EIGS). But France, which refuses to talk about “disengagement”, is also counting on the rise of local forces and could in this sense recall the 600 reinforcements deployed this year.
There is still hope for the deployment of a new Chadian battalion in the three border area, promised a year ago but which is encountering delays while the country is also facing terrorist attacks by Boko Haram in the region of Lake Chad.