The Sahel's Security Environment Amid French and U.N. Troop Withdrawals

Oct 18, 2023 | 15:12 GMT

A general view of a military crest of the French army in Niamey, Niger, on July 15, 2022.

A general view of a military crest of the French army in Niamey, Niger, on July 15, 2022.

(Photo by BERTRAND GUAY/AFP via Getty Images)

French troops reportedly began to withdraw from Niger on Oct. 10, marking a turning point in the Sahel's security landscape. This move follows Niger's July 26 military coup and the Nigerien junta's calls for the departure of French troops amid a rising wave of anti-French sentiment both within the country and across the broader Sahel. Notably, neighboring Mali and Burkina Faso ordered the withdrawal of French troops following their respective coups in 2021 and 2022. The departure of French troops from Niger coincides with the ongoing expedited withdrawal of over 13,000 U.N. peacekeepers from Mali, which will create a security void in a region already grappling with protracted wars against extremist groups such as the Islamic State and Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin. 

The French and U.N. troop withdrawals will deprive the militaries of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso of crucial intelligence capabilities and equipment. The security void is likely to grow as coup leaders prioritize the security of their capitals and major cities over under-governed rural areas. This presents an opportunity for jihadists and other armed groups to expand their operations or increase the frequency of their attacks, potentially encroaching farther into coastal West Africa. This dynamic will also enable external actors such as Russian paramilitary groups — which are already present in Mali — to gain influence, especially in places with high degrees of anti-French sentiment due to historical colonization. France, with 1,000 troops remaining in Chad, will likely be forced to reassess its military strategy in West Africa, potentially leading to enhanced cooperation agreements with countries that harbor lower levels of anti-French sentiment and face heightened threats of jihadist attacks, like Benin, Ghana and Cote d'Ivoire. 

Foreign Deployments in the Sahel