France’s War in the Sahel and the Evolution of Counter-Insurgency Doctrine (Winter 2021)
Criticism of French military operations in the Sahel region of Africa raises questions about the French army’s heritage of colonial and counter-insurgency (COIN) operations and its relevance today. The French army is heir to practices and doctrines that originated in 19th-century colonial operations and the Cold War. Common features of French approaches have been a de-emphasis on military operations and the need for a population-centric focus that emphasizes economic, psychological, and political actions intended to shore up the legitimacy of the colonial political order. After the conclusion of the Algerian War in 1962, the French maintained some of these practices while slowly adapting to the post-colonial political context. Operation Barkhane, which began in 2014, reflects that new doctrine, meaning that the French military is limiting itself to focusing on security in the anticipation that others will do the political work. This is complicated by the fact that the French presence constitutes a political intervention, even as the French strive to avoid political interference.