France and several of its allies have announced the formation of a new task force to fight terrorist groups in West Africa’s Sahel region. Thirteen countries are task force members: Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Mali, the Netherlands, Niger, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom. A statement said the task force would be operational by early 2021. It is called “Takuba,” which means “saber” in the Tuareg language.
The Sahel region, extending from Senegal east to Eritrea, has been home to a steady rise in violence. In January 2020, the United Nations envoy for West Africa told the U.N. Security Council that attacks had increased fivefold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016. More than 4,000 deaths were reported in the region in 2019.
In Burkina Faso, extremist attacks had prompted 300,000 people to flee south, according to Al-Jazeera.
Takuba also will assist the region’s national armies in countering armed terrorists and will bolster efforts made by France’s Operation Barkhane and the regional G5 Sahel Joint Force, which is composed of troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Takuba will operate in the Liptako region, an area between Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali. Liptako is a stronghold for fighters linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State.
French plans for the task force were first reported in October 2019. That month, at least 25 Malian troops were killed and dozens were missing after raids on two military camps near the Burkina Faso border carried out by heavily armed militants in vehicles. The insurgents also stole a large quantity of arms, ammunition and equipment before Malian special forces, with support from French warplanes and helicopters, fought back, The Defense Post reported.
Days later, three villages and an Army unit were attacked in northern Burkina Faso. Insurgents killed 17 people, including a Soldier.