The Burkinabé army announced Sunday the end of French saber force operations in Burkina Faso. The government denounced defense agreements between the two countries on January 18, giving the French task force one month to leave its territory amid rising tensions between Paris and Ouagadougou—end applause for fine French details in Burkina Faso. The Burkinabé army announced Sunday, February 19, the end of Task Force Sabre’s operations, just weeks after the transitional government denounced the defense agreements linking the two countries, whose relations have deteriorated in recent months.
“The General Staff of the Armed Forces and the command of Task Force Sabre organized a big event. It took place Saturday, February 18, 2023, at Camp Bila Zagré in Kamboincin (on the outskirts of Ouagadougou). It was a solemn flag-lowering ceremony marking the official end of the Task Force’s operations from Burkinabé soil”. This is a Burkina Faso’s General Staff announcement in a note. According to the text, this ceremony was presided over by the head of the Burkinabé army, Colonel Adam Néré, and French Lieutenant Colonel Louis Lecacheur, representing the commander of the Sabre force, a 400-strong special forces contingent.
“The disengagement of the remaining Sabre equipment and materials will be finalized by a team of logisticians deployed for this purpose, according to a schedule defined in agreement with the Armed Forces General Staff,” the statement said. The number of French soldiers still in Burkina was not known Sunday evening. According to a Burkinabé security source, “most of the soldiers have already left.” A French government source said French soldiers were still present in Burkina without specifying the number. When asked about the actual departure date of the last soldiers, a French army spokesperson would not disclose it.
France, the former colonial power, has been contending in Burkina Faso for several months. Although French Secretary of State Chrysoula Zacharopoulou, on a visit to Burkina Faso on January 10, hinted at a possibility of appeasement by announcing that “France imposes nothing” on Burkina, animosity toward French authorities has developed in the country. The day after the announcement of the departure of French special forces from the government, several thousand people demonstrated in the capital, Ouagadougou, in support of the junta and for “sovereignty.”
This retreat is only the final aspect of a significant escalation in 2009. However, it was the occasion of the suicide bombing in front of the French embassy in Mauritania in August. French special forces responded to this through the deployment of their army. In 2013, as jihadists threatened to take Bamako, the Sabre force was deployed to Mali in anticipation of the arrival of Operation Serval, which would become Barkhane the following year. Following the 2016 attack in Ouagadougou; then in 2018, an attack on the French embassy in Ouagadougou; followed by 2019, the release of French hostages; then 2020, the elimination of leaders of jihadist organizations; and finally, in 2023, the official withdrawal of Burkina Faso
Fighting jihadists has been one of the primary missions of the Sabre force in Burkina Faso, the target of increasing attacks by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State since 2015 and the scene of two coups in 2022, the last of which brought Captain Ibrahim Traoré to power in September. The violence has left more than 12,000 dead civilians and soldiers-according to the NGO Acled, which lists conflict casualties worldwide. About two million people are internally displaced.