Though the United States may be drawing down its forces in Western Africa, France, the other foreign power operating in the Sahel, has boosted troop numbers in the region from 4,500 to 5,100. The increase came as a response to a January meeting with the G5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) that affirmed the Sahel’s top security threat is the Islamic State’s local affiliate, popularly known as the Islamic State in Greater Sahara (ISGS), which is formally part of the Islamic State’s West African Province.
France and the G5 Sahel’s counter-ISGS operations since January align them with another ISGS enemy: al-Qaeda’s regional affiliate, Jamaat Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM). To be sure, France and the G5 Sahel are hardly JNIM’s friends. However, just as the United States recognizes that it shares mutual interests with the Taliban to counter the Islamic State’s local organization in Afghanistan, France, the G5 Sahel and JNIM all want to see ISGS’s downfall.