France to keep military presence in Sahel, hopes for more support from EU partners

Photo: AP

France has no immediate plans to adjust its military presence in Africa's Sahel region, and any changes will depend on other countries contributing troops, President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday after a virtual summit of G5 Sahel countries, France 24 reported. "It would be paradoxical to weaken our deployment at a time when we have a political and military alignment that enables us to reach our goals," Macron said at a news conference. He added there was an increased willingness from other European countries to take part in the Takuba military force in Sahel.

France 24’s international affairs editor Marc Perelman said that Macron’s announcement to maintain French troop numbers marks a change in strategy, given that last month he spoke of possibly “adjusting” France’s military presence.

France, the region's former colonial power, is searching for an exit strategy after years of military intervention against Islamist militants. Its counter-insurgency operation in the Sahel has cost billions and seen 55 French soldiers killed, yet violence is persisting with signs it is spreading to coastal West Africa.

Macron also urged the so-called G5 Sahel countries to expand their own anti-terror fight and work on restoring government control and services in areas where jihadist fighters are operating.

The virtual meeting comes a year after France boosted its Sahel deployment by 600 to 5,100 troops as it sought to wrest back control in the brutal, long-running battle. Just hours before the summit opened, Malian sources said two troops had been killed by a highway bomb in central Mali. The deaths bring the number of Malian, UN and French troop losses to 29 since the start of the year, according to an AFP tally.

France is hoping for more military support from its European partners through the Takuba Task Force that assists Mali in its fight against jihadists. France has tried to lean on its EU allies to commit more troops to the region. But Germany on Tuesday rejected France’s requests to send more soldiers. "Germany is participating with many troops in both international missions in Sahel, in (the European training mission) EUTM as well as (the UN mission) Minusma," Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said. "At the moment, we don't intend to engage in other missions beyond that but rather focus on what we are doing already," he added.

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