French summit aims to boost counterterror fight in West Africa

Barkhane has so far produced scant results in stemming the security crisis, with attacks in Mali and Burkina Faso now occuring on a near daily basis.

"I can't have French troops on the ground in the Sahel when there is ambiguity [by authorities] towards anti-French movements and sometimes comments made by politicians and ministers", he said on a trip to Britain in early December.

The Sahel region of Africa lies to the south of the Sahara Desert and stretches across the breadth of the African continent.

Being the former colonial power, the French Republic has 4,500 troops in Mali and the Western part of Africa.

The leaders of five West African countries yesterday laid wreaths at a French barracks in honour of soldiers killed in Mali in November, before talks with French President Emmanuel Macron.

The new structure, named Coalition for the Sahel, brings the G5 states, French forces and any future troops under a single command.

Macron was careful to note that France is not in the Sahel to protect its own interests, but rather in the broader fight against terrorism that includes the G5 nations, the US troops, and the new P3S launch in partnership with Germany, as well as United Nations peacekeepers, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States.

Emmanuel Macron along with his G5 Sahel alternatives (Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad) in Pau (Pyrénées-Atlantiques), on January 13.

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Macron had also complained that there is no "clear political condemnation of anti-French feelings" by the G5 Sahel countries.

Niger's government has said that the number of soldiers killed in last week's attack on a military base has reached 89.

Ahmed Mohamed led the army for over two years, a period marked by a steep rise in attacks by militants linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda, Reuters report.

France has called on other European nations to send special forces into the fight.

It was the deadliest on Niger's military since Islamist extremist violence began to spill over from neighbouring Mali in 2015, and dealt a blow to efforts to roll back jihadism in the Sahel.

A question mark hangs over the engagement of the United States, which has threatened to wind down its military operations in West Africa, potentially depriving Barkhane forces of vital intelligence, logistical and drone support. Without their support, the victims would certainly have been more numerous, he said.

French troops were hailed as heroes in 2013 when their intervention helped prevent an Islamist militant push to the Malian capital Bamako.

  • Sonia Alvarado