Distant Warfare within the Sahel and a Position for the European Union


That is an excerpt from Distant Warfare: Interdisciplinary Views. Get your free obtain from E-International Relations.

‘The glass is half full, it’s advanced and we have now quite a bit to do, however I’m satisfied we’re heading in the right direction’ remarked French Defence Minister Florence Parly on the Munich Safety Convention on 16 February 2019. [1] She added that she believed the French navy presence within the G5 Sahel international locations (Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso) will enhance the safety scenario within the Sahel, a area which has, for a while, been a outstanding theatre of intervention. In December 2012, French troops intervened in Mali to cease Islamist militants advancing on the capital Bamako, firstly by means of Opération Serval after which later with Opération Barkhane (as of 2014). Islamist teams had gained management over the northern a part of Mali, capitalising on the instability attributable to the Libyan civil battle within the area. Opération Serval succeeded in its efforts to recapture territory. Opération Barkhane was then launched to offer long-term help to the broader area and stop ‘jihadist teams’ from regaining management (Bacchi 2014). Prior to now few years, nevertheless, Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger have been struggling among the deadliest assaults on document, as the world is being ravaged by tribal battle and terror assaults (Chambas 2020).

On 3 April 2019, the Islamic State’s Amaq Company launched its first video footage of an alleged assault towards French forces in Mali on the border with Niger (Weiss 2019). On the 2019 Munich Safety Convention, Overseas Minister of Burkina Faso, Mamadou Alpha Barry, additionally lamented rising instability within the area, stating that the cash promised to the G5 Sahel pressure is but to be disbursed.[2] France has stored about 4,500 troops and pushed for the creation of a pressure made up of troopers from the G5 group to fight jihadist extremism. Along with the shortage of sources, the G5 Drive’s affect has additionally been lowered resulting from poor coordination amongst the 5 African international locations (French Ministry of Defence 2019).

Distant warfare[3] performed by Western forces is shifting its focus to the Sahel and as European states attempt to rely much less on the US safety equipment, previous authorized challenges – particularly these regarding armed drones and distant warfare extra broadly – are rising in new territories. This locations a selected pressure on native communities within the Sahel, who’re stored at the hours of darkness about operations of their nation. This chapter discusses the usage of distant warfare within the Sahel and the issues it creates. The chapter then explores the potential avenues for peace within the area. Specifically, the chapter argues why the European Union (EU) is finest positioned to be a peace dealer within the Sahel.

Distant Warfare within the Sahel

On 17 November 2018 at round 1:00 am (Brussels time), French Defence Employees reported that Niamey air base in Niger misplaced contact with a Reaper drone belonging to the Barkhane pressure, which was returning to base. The drone crashed in a desert space and no casualties have been reported (DefPost 2018). After the information broke out, the French and European public acknowledged the existence of French distant warfare within the area (see VOA Africa 2018; DefenceWeb 2018; Le Figaro 2018). As of July 2018, 4 French Reaper drones have joined the airbase in Niamey, so as to enhance Opération Barkhane’s capabilities and in 2020 six extra shall be becoming a member of the mission (Cole 2018). As well as, France has now armed and is utilizing its drones, whereas awaiting the event of the European venture Eurodrone, which might additionally equip Italian and German forces and needs to be operational by 2025 (Charpentreau 2018).

In September 2017, Italy and Niger additionally signed an settlement to develop bilateral cooperation on safety issues. It was believed that the settlement would solely cope with migrant influxes, however it seems that the Italian defence firm Leonardo will even profit from the settlement, as revealed by a Freedom of Data Act in February 2019 (Labarrière 2019). One of these settlement doesn’t must be ratified and isn’t topic to parliamentary scrutiny, making it simpler for the Italian Authorities to conduct safety operations within the Sahel, with out having to ask for parliamentary approval.

The Italian mission shall be based mostly in Niamey, throughout the US airbase and had initially been blocked by France, in a dispute with Rome over affect within the area (Negri 2018). One other aligned mission is the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA (United Nations Multidimensional Built-in Stabilisation Mission in Mali), made up of about 10,000 troops and a couple of,000 law enforcement officials. Lastly, Germany can also be stepping up its engagement within the safety sector. In 2018 Burkina Faso turned a associate nation of the German coaching initiative, so as to assist construct capacities throughout the police and the gendarmerie. ‘We are going to develop this additional to embrace gear and can present about ten million euros to this finish. We will even supply advisory providers to be offered by the Bundeswehr,[4] additionally of the order of seven to €10 million,’ pledged Angela Merkel in her go to to Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso In 2019.[5] In Niamey, she acknowledged that help is being offered, particularly with regard to coaching Niger’s armed forces with ‘about €30 million invested lately.’[6]

The EU, as a complete, is rising its presence within the area as properly. Except for supporting the G5 Sahel international locations in political partnership and thru improvement cooperation, the EU can also be offering help for safety and stability by means of the availability of €147 million to determine the African-led G5 Sahel Joint Drive by means of its three Frequent Safety and Defence Coverage missions: EUCAP Sahel Niger, EUCAP Sahel Mali and EU Coaching Mission (EUTM) in Mali. The latter, particularly, falls throughout the definition of safety pressure help and associate capability constructing because it offers navy coaching to Malian Armed Forces. EUTM was deployed in March 2013 with the goal of restructuring the Malian navy and enhancing the final safety sector reform within the nation.

As well as, since summer season 2017, the EU launched a regionalisation strategy of Frequent Safety and Defence Coverage (CSDP) motion within the Sahel, so as to each mix navy and civilian spheres and convey Sahel international locations nearer to one another on safety issues.[7] Such work is a part of a wider effort on the a part of European states to conduct operations within the area remotely. As for the US presence, Niger Air Base 201 in Agadez (Damon, 2017), a future hub for armed drones and different plane, is now operational. Air Base 201, a compound of three massive hangars in the midst of the desert, is twice the dimensions of Agadez itself (Maclean and Saley 2018) and homes the US armed drone mission in Niger that presently operates out of Niamey.

The US presence within the Sahel has elevated significantly previously few years. The Tongo Tongo ambush in Niger in October 2017, the place 4 US and 5 Nigerien troopers have been killed by Islamic State within the Higher Sahara (ISGS) fighters, has modified the looks of US engagement within the area, unveiling the character of US shadow battle within the Sahel, very similar to the crash of the Barkhane Reaper drone did for Europe. From 2002, the US has been conducting coaching missions for native forces to equip them to battle towards Boko Haram, al-Qaeda within the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and different teams equivalent to Jam’at Nasr al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM), ISGS, Ansar al-Din, Ansar al-Islam.[8] Though the rhetoric says that they want to keep a lightweight footprint in Africa, US forces are definitely rising their presence within the Sahel, albeit otherwise. Proper after the Tongo Tongo ambush, Niger authorised US armed drone presence on its territory and the US started the development of its drone camp in Agadez, a extra central location within the area which might permit for higher management over a bigger swathe of territory.

The Risks of Distant Warfare within the Sahel

The fears related to distant warfare may very well be largely grouped in inside and exterior. Internally, there’s a actual or perceived lack of possession and an increase in conspiracy theories. Externally, there may be an evident lack of public scrutiny over mild footprint warfare, as shall be talked about later, and the hazard of blowback. These fears derive immediately from the hidden nature of distant warfare. The Nigerien Authorities has welcomed the presence of US troops, so long as they contribute to the eradication of terrorist exercise within the nation, however civil society in Niger seems distrustful of such a presence. A report by The Guardian in 2018 states that overseas navy presence has had detrimental impacts on freedom of speech and plenty of opposition leaders have lamented the shortage of parliamentary oversight each time overseas presence is authorised (Maclean and Saley 2018). The concern is that Niger will more and more grow to be a hub for geopolitical pursuits of nice powers, which may result in harder therapy of dissent internally (Ibid.).

As well as, Niger spends about 21 % of its funds on defence, which for a poor nation represents a big share of its revenues (Bailie 2018). The securitisation of the Nigerien political sphere is seen as a method to harness help for a authorities that will in any other case obtain much less approval. As for the legality of overseas powers presence, this doesn’t rely on Nigerien parliamentary approval. Neither the US nor Niger are revealing the main points of their cooperation. Niger’s authorities state that these usually are not ‘defence agreements’, as Niger is only a logistical hotspot. It due to this fact comes as no shock that the Nigerien public are involved. A CIA official interviewed throughout a go to to Niamey in July 2019 reported that each time a strike is launched from the US’ Niger Air Base 201 close to Agadez, ‘a CIA commander sends a WhatsApp textual content to his Nigerien counterpart, it’s a gents’s settlement.’ It might be laborious to name this parliamentary oversight. It seems that the defence of Nigerien territory is ongoing. After the Tongo Tongo ambush in June 2018, French and US Particular Forces took half in a battle towards militants subsequent to the Libyan border.

The evolution of the conflicts within the area factors in direction of a rising reliance on the usage of distant warfare ways, equivalent to associate capability constructing and the usage of drones. The paradox is clear: energy gamers within the area are nonetheless interventionist, however unwilling to bear the human value of deploying their very own troops (Jazekovic 2017) and this distant presence within the area is perceived by native authorities and the inhabitants as neo-colonial. The US has not clarified its long-term strategic intentions, however each France and the EU have. The G5 Sahel Joint Drive is taken into account a approach of lowering French and overseas presence and permitting for stronger possession of regional authorities of their very own safety. The acknowledged intention is to switch Opération Barkhane and EU CSDP missions with the G5 Sahel Joint Drive; nevertheless, there seems to be no timeline for when such an goal needs to be achieved, which leads inevitably to criticisms (RFI 2019).

However whereas US and European publics have taken inventory of those current developments, publicly out there data throughout the area lags behind. The shy communication initiatives by the native authorities seem like extra of a results of rising strain on politicians to not be servient of overseas powers reasonably than a clear coverage alternative. Journalist Ahamadou Abdoulaye Abdourahamane writes on Niamey Soir in August 2018: ‘There isn’t any independence if you’re surveilled by overseas drones. We refuse this pretend independence, there isn’t a independence if our native forces can not enter Western bases. Regardless of the safety threats are, navy cooperation shouldn’t imply neo-colonial conquest.’ [9] Journalist Seidik Abba writes ‘Many Nigeriens, equivalent to myself, really feel deep disappointment for having to study what occurs of their nation by means of the New York Occasions. Niger isn’t a federal state of the Unites States.’[10]

The true or perceived absence of a optimistic financial affect is another excuse why the US navy presence isn’t deemed helpful to the area. Many inhabitants of the Tadarass neighbourhood, the closest to the Agadez US201 base, denounce the ineffectiveness of the bottom. Each the noise and the mud attributable to the bottom have made US presence in Agadez laborious to simply accept for the native residents. As well as, navy presence isn’t even fulfilling its important function, which is to offer safety, as overseas presence usually signifies that the native inhabitants will extra seemingly be focused and grow to be collateral injury. Furthermore, there are fears {that a} battle might erupt amongst regional forces and the US or French presence.

On associate capability constructing, analysis performed by Oxford Analysis Group in Mali and Kenya in September 2018 provides to this complexity by explaining how the political vacuum in capitals results in a disarrayed coordination of troops on the bottom (Knowles and Watson 2019). In Mali, Knowles and Watson (2019, 2) notice ‘there have been a couple of males scattered throughout the a number of worldwide navy initiatives within the nation run by the EU, the UN and the French and not using a clear sense of how these actions – in mixture – may result in a sustainable enchancment within the capability of their Malian companions.’ As well as, HQ too usually considers personnel on the bottom as much less related within the decision-making course of, as the primary political authority is inside capital cities, which results in a spot between these implementing technique and people devising it. Some short-term ways (equivalent to preferring to coach troopers who belong to a selected ethnic group) could also be fast and efficient within the quick time period however result in additional problems in the long run in a rustic marred by ethnic battle (Ibid.).

Lastly, as current analysis (Lyckman and Weissman 2014) exhibits, the usage of ‘mild footprint battle’ carries a number of challenges which not solely relate to what’s talked about above, but in addition to transparency and accountability. As Goldsmith and Waxman (2016, 8) level out, referring to the modifications made by former President Obama, ‘[…] light-footprint warfare doesn’t appeal to practically the identical degree of congressional and particularly public scrutiny as do extra typical navy means.’ As well as, research on the blowback penalties of distant ways equivalent to drone strikes range extensively, however arguably essentially the most full analysis on such subject so far (Saeed et al. 2019) finds that ‘drone strikes are adopted by strongly elevated charges of suicide assaults’ at the least for the placement and time interval considered.[11] All such risks of distant warfare worsen the inner issues beforehand talked about above.

A Position for the EU

The EU is the perfect peace dealer within the area, not least due to how the area is perceived by a lot of related member states. Lebovich (2018) argues that it’s within the Sahel that some EU members consider they have to battle a key battle for the way forward for the European venture, viewing the stabilisation of the area – significantly by means of initiatives to hamper migration and suppress terrorist threats – as key to combating populist nationalism of their respective international locations (Lebovich 2018). The EU has been intensifying its efforts within the area in response to a succession of destabilising occasions, from the 2012 Tuareg revolt in northern Mali and subsequent terrorist occupation of the world to the migration disaster that moved throughout Europe from 2015 onwards (though European concern in regards to the area has been rising since 2008, if not earlier).

European leaders are additionally extraordinarily proud that they noticed the area as central a lot earlier than different powers did and began deploying personnel very early on. The EU’s important ambitions are non-military, regardless of having a coaching mission in Mali (EUTM), which implies its position within the Sahel may very well be very totally different from that of member states. The EU helps a number of safety initiatives: it has already offered €100 million to determine the African led G5 Sahel Joint Drive which goals to enhance safety within the area and battle terrorist and legal teams. As talked about, the EU is itself a safety participant within the Sahel, with three Frequent Safety and Defence Coverage missions (EUCAP Sahel Niger, EUCAP Sahel Mali, EU coaching mission – EUTM – in Mali). The Council prolonged the mandate of the EU mission EUCAP Sahel Mali to January 2021 and allotted it a funds of just about 67 million (Council of the European Union 2019b).[12]

As well as, the EU is planning to determine a fourth CSDP mission within the area within the coming years (Lebovich 2018). It additionally offers greater than €400 million in programmes to help stability and improvement within the area. For instance, in 2017, the EU launched a stabilisation operation in a small space of Mali, chargeable for advising the Malian authorities in Mopti and Segou on governance-related points, and supporting the planning and implementation by the Malian authorities of actions aimed toward reinstating the civilian administration and primary providers within the area. This group additionally supposed to help an enhanced dialogue between the Malian authorities and the native communities (Council of the European Union 2017). Nonetheless, of their drive to answer political strain from member states, which can be articulated in numerous methods, EU interventions within the area generally fail to adapt to situations on the bottom, probably contributing to instability in the long term.

These interventions additionally danger creating overly convoluted and flimsy bureaucracies each due to strategic gaps and easily due to a big presence of uncoordinated actors. The G5 Sahel pressure dangers changing into one other safety structure, which may additional exacerbate the scenario within the area (Schnabel 2019). As such, the EU ought to as an alternative concentrate on a civilian reasonably than navy element, so as to construct belief with the native inhabitants and collect a lot wanted information. The EU should additionally take care of member states’ competing pursuits and overlapping missions and contributions, from France’s Operation Barkhane to the current Italian deployment – coupled with a rising US distant presence.

As talked about, the EU is healthier suited to be a presence on the bottom in comparison with different overseas forces due to native perceptions. Niger’s authorities has recognised EUCAP Sahel Niger’s worth (Lebovich 2018) and step by step tailored to the mission, additionally rising its participation. This shift in perspective may very well be seen following the onset of the European migration disaster, which confirmed native governments that European curiosity within the area was closely depending on the emergency and prompted calls for from authoritarian regimes within the area. Elites in associate international locations equivalent to Niger present that they’ve discovered the right way to use European calls for to their very own benefit (Koch et al 2018).

As for European distant warfare within the area and the associated difficulty of a lot wanted regulation modifications in Brussels, the brand new European Defence Fund (coupled with the European Peace Facility) represents a chance to have a optimistic affect within the area. One instance of this may very well be the acquisition and use of armed drones. For the reason that EU Defence Fund won’t be a competence of member states[13] – equivalent to Italy and France who’re already, or will sooner or later, deploy armed drones within the area, however on EU prerogative – Brussels ought to concentrate on regulating how such missions are performed by establishing an EU Frequent Coverage[14] on armed drones. On this approach, the EU may have a say on how such a weapon is deployed, so as to not fall for the US entice of limitless distant warfare.

Furthermore, the EU’s built-in technique for the Sahel centres on the concept safety, improvement, and governance are strongly intertwined. This doesn’t imply that the Safety-Improvement Nexus (whose 4 pillars are youth, battle towards radicalisation, migration and illicit trafficking[15]) is an ideal instrument. Native civil society teams have voiced considerations round the way in which matters equivalent to countering violent extremism (CVE) are handled by worldwide actors.[16] Regardless of all this, although, it’s simple that the EU technique for the Sahel[17] presents a number of optimistic, progressive concepts for securing troubled areas, the place a navy method isn’t deemed to be adequate in itself to securing the area.

The European Council allowed for the institution of a regional coordination cell (RCC) based mostly throughout the European Convention on Antennas and Propagation (EUCAP) Sahel Mali (Council of the European Union 2019a). This cell features a community of inside safety and defence specialists, deployed in Mali but in addition in EU delegations in different G5 Sahel international locations. The RCC command and management construction (now renamed RACC, Regional Advisory and Coordination Cell) has lately been strengthened by means of a rise within the numbers of CSDP specialists and moved from Bamako to Nouakchott (Ibid.). The RACC helps, by means of strategic recommendation, the G5 Sahel constructions and international locations, and the target of the cell’s actions shall be to strengthen the G5 Sahel regional and nationwide capacities, significantly to help the operationalisation of the G5 Sahel joint pressure navy and police parts. EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger will have the ability to conduct focused actions of strategic recommendation and coaching in different G5 Sahel international locations. The European Council envisages that within the medium to long run, the coordination hub’s perform shall be transferred from Brussels to the constructions of the G5 Sahel. The coordination hub is a mechanism which has operated below the duty of the EU navy workers since November 2017 and which offers an summary of the wants of the navy G5 joint pressure along with the potential affords of navy help from EU member states and from different donors. In different phrases, it’s a discussion board which permits the matching of affords to wants.

Nonetheless, so as to keep away from all points talked about above, the EU ought to guarantee that it establishes clear processes that will not solely be helpful to its mission, however which may additionally assist different overseas and regional presences. Its new concentrate on safety and defence and its renewed curiosity within the Sahel are good incentives to take up extra duty for all overseas forces working within the area. That is clearly laborious to perform, as safety pursuits usually are not so simply negotiable, however the EU has a lot to supply. With a view to keep away from duplicating efforts, creating bigger and uncooperative architectures and being perceived merely as a self-interested overseas pressure by the native inhabitants, the EU should guarantee cooperation not simply amongst its totally different missions within the area, but in addition amongst all different safety actors.

As well as, it ought to supply a clearly demarcated and enormous civilian element to its missions and guarantee that governance and improvement symbolize a a lot wider a part of its agenda, ranging from nudging in direction of a safety sector reform that’s extra aligned with good governance and democratic rules. That is undoubtedly extraordinarily laborious because it entails negotiation and compromise with associate governments, which are not looking for EU interference of their inside affairs. Nonetheless, given what it offers by way of sources from improvement and coaching and its optimistic status with native communities, the EU has extra leverage than it provides itself credit score for and will push for finest practices and optimistic reform.

The EU also needs to bear in mind a transparent timeframe, and totally different and complementary goals all through all phases, with a selected consideration to the preliminary and closing moments. This is able to keep away from errors such because the creation of different divisive neighborhood fractures, as is the case with UK forces, [18] and lack of classes discovered resulting from not clearly established reporting mechanisms each internally and to Brussels. Lastly, the EU ought to have a optimistic communication position, not simply amongst the totally different institutional and navy actors within the area, but in addition with the native communities and civil society actors. The EU will be more practical in comparison with different actors given its connections to member states’ missions, its lack of colonial and neo-colonial status and its sources.


The Sahel is experiencing a hardening of the safety scenario resulting from legal and terrorist threats and each sources and personnel are pouring in from sure European member states, the UN and the US. Removed from creating stability, this dangers additional exacerbating current tensions and is negatively perceived by native communities. The EU missions and EU funds may very well be helpful in avoiding errors resulting from poor administration and coordination amongst native and overseas forces. The EU ought to perceive its leverage and use it to the benefit of the 2 key phrases born within the crest of the G5 safety alliance: safety and improvement.


[1] Opening speech of the Munich Safety Convention, Retrieved from https://www.defense.gouv.fr/english/salle-de-presse/dossiers-de-presse/discours-de-florence-parly-en-ouverture-de-la-munich-security-conference

[2] Your complete dialogue will be discovered right here https://www.securityconference.de/en/media-search/s_video/parallel-panel-discussion-security-in-the-sahel-traffick-jam/s_filter/video/s_term/Panel%20Discussion%20The%20Syrian%20Conflict%3A%20Strategy%20or%20Tragedy%3F%20Conference%20Hall/

[3] By distant warfare, I imply the definition given by Emily Knowles and Abigail Watson in Distant Warfare: Classes Discovered in Up to date Theatres (Oxford Analysis Group, June 2018): ‘a type of intervention which takes place behind the scenes or at a distance reasonably than on a conventional battlefield, usually by means of drone strikes and air strikes from above, with Particular Forces, intelligence businesses, personal contractors, and navy coaching groups on the bottom.’

[4] This refers to German Armed Forces

[5] Retrieved from German Federal Authorities web site https://www.bundesregierung.de/breg-en/news/stepping-up-cooperation-with-the-sahel-region-1605870

[6] Ibid.

[7] See European Exterior Motion Service Factsheet on G5 Sahel : https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/factsheet_eu_g5_sahel_0.pdf

[8] For a map of armed teams within the area, see Lebovich (2019) https://www.ecfr.eu/mena/sahel_mapping

[9] Loosely translated from French. Retrieved from http://www.niameysoir.com/abdoul-ecrivain-du-sahel-lindependance-dans-la-negation-de-la-dependance-il-ny-a-pas-dindependance-sous-la-surveillance-des-drones-des-forces-militaires-etrangeres/

[10] Loosely translated from French. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/abbaseidik/status/1039449240303493121?s=20

[11] The authors (Saeed et al. 2019) check whether or not there are elevated charges of suicide bombing exercise in Pakistan throughout 30-day time durations instantly following drone strikes. To take action they use the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ) drone strike database, which spans from 2004 to 2017 and covers 430 strikes in Pakistan.

[12] See European Council web page on EUCAP Sahel Mali : https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/02/21/eucap-sahel-mali-mission-extended-until-14-january-2021-budget-of-67-million-adopted/

[13] Because of this how the Fund is used shall be determined upon by the European Fee (and the funds by the European Parliament) without having to seek the advice of with member states. That is the primary time within the historical past of the European Union {that a} funds for defence is an EU Fee prerogative, see my piece on the European Defence Fund: Goxho (2019), European defence fund and European drones: mirroring US follow?, World Affairs

[14] Which may appear to be the one proposed by Dorsey, June 2017.

[15] EU Particular Consultant Losada’s interview will be seen at: https://africacenter.org/spotlight/eu-security-strategy-sahel-focused-security-development-nexus/

[16] Issues on such issues have been shared throughout our journey to Niamey in July 2019 mainly by the Reseau d’Appui Aux Initiatives Locales (RAIL) and the Collectif des Organisations de Protection de Droit de l’Homme (CODDH).

[17] The European Union technique for the Sahel will be discovered right here: https://eeas.europa.eu/sites/eeas/files/factsheet_eu_g5_sahel_july-2019.pdf

[18] Knowles and Watson (2019) notice in ‘Bettering the UK supply in Africa: Classes from navy partnerships on the continent’: ‘[In Mali] one instance is the ethnic composition of the pressure, which is skewed in direction of these from the south of the nation. Accelerating the expansion of an unrepresentative pressure within the context of ongoing conflicts between totally different ethnicities in Mali may very well be extraordinarily detrimental to long-term safety.’


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———. 2019a. ‘Sahel: EU takes additional steps to raised help the safety of the area.’ Press Launch. 18 February. https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2019/02/18/sahel-eu-takes-further-steps-to-better-support-the-security-of-the-region/

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