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France to reshape troop presence in Sahel within weeks

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By Reuters
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PARIS -France will soon begin reshaping its military presence in the Sahel region of West Africa, where it has been on the front line of the fight against Islamist militants, and will ultimately halve it, President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday.

The former colonial power, France has hailed some successes against Sahel militants in recent months. The situation is extremely fragile, however, and with no apparent end in sight to its operations and political turmoil especially in Mali, Paris has grown frustrated.

France will first move its troops further south and then later start reducing their presence to around half the current level of some 5,100 soldiers, Macron said.

“We will remain committed. But to remain committed is also to adapt,” Macron told a news conference after a virtual summit with leaders of the Sahel region.

Macron announced a month ago that France was ending its Barkhane mission eight years after it first intervened in the Sahel and would operate within a broader international alliance.

Macron on Friday said this was made possible by in part by the changing nature of the threat as well as the capabilities of local armies and support from other European nations.

“This reconfiguration will begin in the coming weeks. In line with the shift in threat to the south, it will mean a reduction in our military footprint primarily in the north (of the Sahel),” Macron said.

France will be left with 2,500-3,000 troops in the Sahel once the drawdown was completed, Macron said, but gave no timeframe.

Nigerien President Mohamed Bazoum told the news conference he supported the French troop reduction.