Operation Barkhane

Operation Barkhane is an ongoing anti-insurgent operation in Africa's Sahel region, which commenced 1 August 2014.[13] It consists of a 4,500-strong French force, which is permanently headquartered in N’Djamena, the capital of Chad.[14] The operation has been designed with five countries, and former French colonies, that span the Sahel: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.[14] These countries are collectively referred to as the "G5 Sahel".[15] The operation is named after a crescent-shaped dune in the Sahara desert.[16]

Operation Barkhane
Part of the Northern Mali conflict, the Insurgency in the Maghreb and the War on Terror

French soldiers of the 126th Infantry Regiment and Malian soldiers, March 17, 2016.
Date1 August 2014 – present
Status Ongoing

G5 Sahel

Supported by:

Nusrat al-Islam (2017–present)
AQIM (2014–present)
Al-Mourabitoun (2014–17)
Ansar Dine (2014–17)
Commanders and leaders

François Hollande (2014–17)
Emmanuel Macron (2017–present)
Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta
Mahamadou Issoufou
Michel Kafando
Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz
Idriss Déby

Kersti Kaljulaid
Kristjan Karist

Iyad Ag Ghaly
Djamel Okacha

Mokhtar Belmokhtar

4,500 French troops[7]
95 Estonian troops

70 danish troops with two heavy lift helicopters
3,000 fighters (all groups)[8]
Casualties and losses
600 killed or captured.[12]

The French military initially intervened in Mali in early 2013 as part of Operation Serval which successfully regained the northern half of the country from Islamist groups. Operation Barkhane is intended to act as a follow up to this success and has expanded the French military's operations over a vast area of the Sahel region with the stated aim of helping these countries governments maintain control of their territory while also preventing the region from becoming a safe-haven for Islamist terrorist groups planning to attack France and Europe.[17]


As part of the fallout from the Libyan Civil War, instability in northern Mali caused by a Tuareg rebellion against the central Malian government was exploited by Islamist groups who gained control over the northern half of the country. In response, France launched a military operation in January 2013 to stop the Islamist offensive from toppling the Malian government and to re-capture northern Mali.[18] The operation, codenamed Operation Serval, ended in the complete re-capture of all Islamist held territory by the operations conclusion on the 15 July 2014.

Following the end of Operation Serval, France recognised the need to provide stability in the wider Sahel region by helping the region's various governments combat terrorism. The Former French Defense Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, said that France recognised that “there still is a major risk that jihadists develop in the area that runs from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau.” Therefore Operation Barkhane was launched in order to assure the Sahel nations' security, and in effect France's security.[15] The operation is the successor of Operation Serval, the French military mission in Mali,[16] and Operation Epervier, the mission in Chad.[19]


The operation is "to become the French pillar of counterterrorism in the Sahel region."[15] According to French Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, the main objective of Operation Barkhane is counter-terrorism:[13] "The aim is to prevent what I call the highway of all forms of traffics to become a place of permanent passage, where jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean can rebuild themselves, which would lead to serious consequences for our security."[20] Former French President, François Hollande, has said the Barkhane force will allow for a "rapid and efficient intervention in the event of a crisis" in the region.[16] The operation will target Islamist extremists in Mali, Chad and Niger,[13] and will have a mandate to operate across borders.[13]

Forces committed

French Forces

The French force is a 3,000-strong counter-terrorism force,[14] with 1,000 soldiers to be deployed indefinitely in Mali. These soldiers will be focused on counter-terrorism operations in northern Mali, with another 1,200 soldiers stationed in Chad, and the remaining soldiers split between a surveillance base in Niger, a bigger permanent base in Ivory Coast, and some special forces in Burkina Faso.[14] According to original plans, the French forces will be supplied with 20 helicopters, 200 armored vehicles, 10 transport aircraft, 6 fighter planes, and 3 drones.[14] French Army Aviation currently have two Aérospatiale SA 330 Puma's in Chad.[21]

The division of labor between France and the G5 Sahel has been established by four permanent military bases:[15] (1) headquarters and an air force base in the Chadian capital of N'Djamena (under the leadership of French Général Palasset); (2) a regional base in Gao, north Mali, with at least 1,000 men; (3) a special-forces base in Burkina Faso's capital, Ouagadougou; (4) an intelligence base in Niger’s capital, Niamey, with over 300 men. The Niamey air base is strategically important because it hosts drones in charge of gathering intelligence across the entire Sahel-Saharan region.[15] From Niamey, France's troops are supported by two German Transall C-160.[22]

British support

In March 2016, during the UK-France Summit in Paris, the British government announced that it would consider providing support to Operation Barkhane.[1] British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon then announced that the UK would provide monthly strategic airlift support to French forces in Africa.[2] In July 2018, three RAF Chinook helicopters arrived in Mali to provide logistical and troop movement support to French and other military forces operating in the area. This deployment is in addition to the 90 British troops already deployed in the region.[23] In September 2018, Forces.net reported that to date the RAF Chinooks Mk5s have made 30 sorties, transporting over 700 French troops, supplies and 70 tons of equipment across Mali.[24]


On March 22, 2018, the Ministry of Defence of Estonia announced its intention to commit up to 50 troops and 5 Pasi XA-188 armoured vehicles to Mali as part of Operation Barkhane, to be based in Gao, pending approval by the Riigikogu.[25][26] The unit, named ESTPLA-26 and headed by Maj. Kristjan Karist, was detached from the C Infantry Company of the Scouts Battalion on August 6, and arrived in Mali that same week to be stationed at the French military base in Gao.[27][28]



Operations commenced 1 August 2014. French Forces sustained their first casualty during a battle in early November 2014, which also resulted in 24 jihadists dead.[29] On 24 November, a French special forces soldier was killed in a Caracal helicopter crash in Burkina Faso.[30] French forces experienced their first major success of Barkhane in December 2014 with the killing of Ahmed al-Tilemsi, the leader of the Al-Mourabitoun jihadist group, by French special forces during a raid in the deserts of northern Mali.[31]


From 7 to 14 April 2015, French and Nigerien forces carried out an airborne operation in the far north of Niger to search for Jihadists. As part of the operation, 90 French Foreign Legion paratroopers of the 2e REP jumped near the Salvador pass. Two legionnaires were injured during the jump before they were joined by a joint force of Nigerien and French soldiers from the 1st Parachute Hussar Regiment.[32]

On 26 November 2015, a French Air Parachute Commando died in hospital in France as a result of his injuries after being hit by an anti-tank mine on 13 October near Tessalit during a reconnaissance mission.[33]


On 12 April 2016, three French soldiers were killed when their armored personnel carrier struck a land mine. The convoy of about 60 vehicles was travelling to the northern desert town of Tessalit when it hit the mine.[34] Another French soldier was killed on 4 November 2016 following the explosion of a mine near the town of Abeïbara, making 2016 the deadliest year for French forces participating in Barkhane.[35]


On 15 March 2017, French forces arrested eight jihadists in desert north of Timbuktu.[36] On 5 April 2017, master corporal Julien Barbé,[37] was killed in action near Hombori after an explosive device blew up an armoured vehicle.[38] He was posthumously made a knight of the Legion of Honour.[37] Heavy fighting between French forces and Jihadist groups continued into the summer of 2017, with 8 French soldiers being wounded by a mortar attack on their base in Timbuktu on 1 June.[39] On the night of 17 June, France suffered its tenth soldier killed during an airborne operation in the north-east of Mali.[40]

On 4 October 2017, French forces operating as part of Barkhane were the first to respond to the ambush of American soldiers searching for an Islamic State commander on the Niger-Mali border. French air support was requested by the Americans and two hours later Mirage fighter jets arrived from Niamey. Despite the French pilots being unable to engage ground targets due to the proximity of friendly forces, the jets deterrence was enough to end the ambush.[41] A French special forces team were the first ground forces to reach the scene of the ambush, 3–4 hours after the firefight which resulted in the death of 4 American Green Berets.[42]

On 14 October 2017, an Antonov An-26 aircraft operating in support of Operation Barkhane crashed shortly before landing at Félix Houphouët Boigny International Airport, Abidjan, Ivory Coast.[43] Four Moldovan flight crew were killed. Two Moldovan flight crew and four French Army soldiers were injured.[44]


A French Army convoy was attacked on January 11 by a suicide car bomb while driving between the towns of Idelimane and Menaka. Three French soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in the attack which was later claimed by Islamic State in the Greater Sahara.[45] On 14 February, a French airstrike killed at least 10 Jihadists at the border between Algeria and Mali.[46][47] Two French soldiers from the 1st Spahi Regiment were killed and the Colonel-in-chief was wounded on 21 February when the armoured vehicle they were travelling in struck a mine between the towns of Gao and Menaka.[48]

On 14 April 2018, JNIM militants launched an attack on a UN base in Timbuktu, wounding several French soldiers before being repelled by French, Malian and American troops.[49] Four French soldiers were seriously wounded by a suicide car bomb attack against a joint French-Malian patrol in Gao on 1 July 2018.[50] The attack, which heavily damaged a number of French VBCI's, also killed 4 civilians and seriously wounded 27 others.[51]


On 22 February, French forces backed by an armed reaper drone and a helicopter attacked a JNIM convoy killing 11 militants including senior leader Yahia Abou el Hamman in the Tombouctou Region of Mali.[52][53] A militant improvised explosive device struck a French armoured vehicle carrying out an anti-terrorist operation in the Mopti Region on 2 April, killing one French soldier and seriously wounding another.[54] Two French commandos of the Commandos Marine were killed on 9 May in the North of Burkina Faso during a rescue mission which successfully rescued four hostages, included two Frenchmen, and an American and South Korean woman, who had been kidnapped by Islamists.[55]

In mid-June, a French Army Light Aviation Gazelle helicopter crashed in the border region between Mali and Niger after being fired upon by insurgent small arms fire. The two pilots and a special forces sniper were subsequently rescued by another helicopter after destroying the damaged helicopter.[56] The French military base in Gao was assaulted by suicide bombers on 22 July in an attack that wounded 6 Estonian soldiers and a similar number of French personnel.[57] A French soldier was killed on 2 November when his vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device during a patrol near Menaka in eastern Mali.[58] French commandos launched a heli-borne raid on an insurgent camp in Mali's eastern regions on November 16, which resulted in five insurgents killed and one French soldier being seriously injured.[59]

On 25 November, 13 French soldiers were killed in northern Mali when a 'Tigre' and 'Cougar' helicopter collided in mid-air while flying to reinforce soldiers engaged in combat with insurgents.[60] The loss of 13 soldiers was the heaviest loss of life for the French military since the 1983 Beirut barracks bombings.[61]

Intervention assessment

Late in 2015, French army representatives indicated that over 150 ammunition and explosive depositories have been discovered and 25 vehicles and 80 electronic device (GPS, computers, satellite phones and radio stations) destroyed. This represented 20 tons of ammunitions including 2,000 shells, 680 grenades, guided missiles, 25 IEDs and mines, 210 detonators, 30 mortars, machine guns and rocket launchers. The army also seized 3,500 kg of various drugs.

On February 2018, french defense minister, Ms. Florence Parly indicated that 450 jihadists have been « neutralized », amongst which 120 have been killed and 150 held as prisoners by Malian authorities. In July 2018, General Bruno Guibert, head of the Barkhane force, confirmed that 120 terrorists have been killed since the beginning of the year.

On February 2019, Ms. Parly announced that over 600 jihadists have been "neutralized" since the beginning of the operation. Intelligence services estimate that at least 2,000 to 3,000 jihadists are operating in Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

See also


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  2. "Defence Secretary secures progress on Brimstone sales as unmanned aircraft project moves forward". Ministry of Defence. 3 March 2016. Retrieved 24 March 2016. And he committed the UK to providing one strategic airlift flight a month to support French forces in their operations against terrorists in Africa.
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  9. In memoriam, Ministère de la Défense.
  10. Malis ründasid terroristid Gao sõjaväebaasi, Estonian Defence Forces
  11. Six Estonian Defence Forces members injured in Mali terrorist attack, , Estonian Public Broadcasting
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