France's Macron rules out immediate reduction in troop numbers in Sahel
Iran Press TV
Wednesday, 17 February 2021 6:25 AM
French President Emmanuel Macron has ruled out any immediate decrease in the number of French troops deployed to the Sahel region in West Africa.
Macron said on the second day of a summit with G5 Sahel leaders on Tuesday that the French military presence in Sahel would undergo "changes," but not in the near future, he said.
"Significant changes will undoubtedly be made to our military system in the Sahel in due course, but they will not take place immediately," Macron said.
The Sahel, a semi-arid stretch of land south of the Sahara desert, has been in turmoil since 2012, when a number of armed militant groups started targeting the local population in Mali.
Macron said any "adjustment" in the French military presence in Sahel would depend on the involvement of other African countries, including Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Niger — the so-called G5 Sahel countries — in alleged operations against al-Qaeda.
The French president said European countries were willing to join in, as well. He said countries such as Hungary, Greece, and Serbia had expressed willingness to send troops.
Last year, France boosted its troop numbers for its so-called Operation Barkhane in the Sahel by 600 to 5,100 soldiers.
Last February, France's Defense Minister Florence Parly said that French reinforcements would be deployed to both the border troops monitoring the area between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger, as well as to the G5 forces in the Sahel region, where there is a 13,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force.
Macron called on regional countries to make greater contributions in the alleged fight against militants.
"In the coming months, we will not change our presence. We will launch other important operations, and we will above all be reinforced by the Chadian battalion, by the Malian mobilization, and by contributions from Mauritania," Macron said.
French media have previously reported that Macron aims to go further in reducing the number of French troops in the Sahel region before the next presidential election in April-May 2022.
"So far, the French have not really questioned the role of France in the Sahel. But you have to be very careful. Public opinion can change very quickly," a government source told AFP.
In the past years, terrorist attacks by regional militant groups have been a source of insecurity in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and neighboring African countries.
Thousands of people have been killed and millions more displaced by the violence, according to the UN.
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