France commits more troops to fight jihadist threat in Sahel region

France commits more troops to fight jihadist threat in Sahel region
Copyright AP Photo/Alvaro Barrientos, Pool
By Julie Gaubert with AP
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Macron wants the summit to help re-legitimize the French operation in the Sahel by sending a strong joint message.


France is sending hundreds more troops to the Sahel to bolster its forces in the African region in the fight against jihadists.

Emmanuel Macron made the announcement at a summit on fighting the escalating jihadist threat in the region, which followed a ceremony in the southern French city of Pau, where he and West African heads of states paid tribute to French soldiers killed in Mali.

READ MORE: Why are French soldiers in Mali?

Leaders of the G5 Sahel (Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania) attended the commemoration, as well as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, African Union Commission President Moussa Faki and President of the European Council Charles Michel.

Emmanuel Macron had called the summit with West African leaders following a helicopter collision last November that killed 13 French soldiers in Mali near the Niger border. It was France’s worst military loss in nearly four decades.

The summit was initially scheduled to take place in December but was postponed due to an attack that claimed the lives of 71 Nigerien soldiers.

The summit was maintained even as Niger faced the most deadly attack of its kind in years on Sunday: 89 soldiers were killed in the Chinegodar camp, near Mali.

The Pau summit aimed to review the military strategy against jihadists and to call for increased participation by international allies.

Pau is also the city where seven of the French soldiers who died were based.

"This Pau Summit is an important moment after what our countries have suffered. I want to have a thought for the civilians, French soldiers - we have honoured them today - and G5 Sahel soldiers who fell in the fight against jihadism. I know the price paid by those who shed their blood," the French President tweeted.

France's new military strategy

Paris was expecting this summit to result in a joint declaration from G5 Sahel in an attempt to re-legitimise the French operation in the region.

A thousand people demonstrated again in Bamako to demand the withdrawal of French and foreign troops last Friday.

In response to the rise of this anti-French feeling, G5 leaders have expressed "the wish for the continuation of France's military engagement in the Sahel" in a press release.

The leaders expressed their "gratitude for the crucial support provided by the United States" and their wish for its "continuity", while the Pentagon has just announced its intention to reduce the sails in Africa.

Macron said he hoped "to be able to convince President Trump that the fight against terrorism is also playing out in this region and that the Libyan case cannot be separated from the situation in the Sahel and in the Lake Chad region". He spoke of the risk of "proliferation of terrorism" if it fails.

France is also in the process of setting up an operation called "Tacouba", bringing together special forces from a dozen European countries.

At the end of the summit, Emmanuel Macron announced the dispatch of 220 additional soldiers to the Sahel to reinforce the French military forces of Operation "Barkhane", which already counts 4,500 men who fight jihadists in the region.

According to the UN, more than 4,000 people were killed in terrorist attacks in 2019 in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger. The number of displaced has increased tenfold, approaching a million.

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