The leaders of France and five West African countries agreed on Tuesday to intensify the fight against Islamic extremists in the Sahel region. After a two-day summit, they agreed to maintain a strong French military presence in the region, deploy a new Chadian battalion, and gradually build up a European task force.
The leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania, gathered in N’Djamena, Chad, praised the progress made over the past year that enabled the implementation of a clear military strategy. The summit was also attended by telephone by French President Emmanuel Macron, European officials and heads of international organizations.
Speaking from Paris, Macron said that his country would keep the number of soldiers serving in the region at its current level, at least until the third quarter. His statement was a clear change of direction from previous statements, when Macron suggested favoring a gradual reduction in troop levels.
“I think that hastening a French withdrawal or wanting a mass withdrawal of soldiers – an option that I have studied – would be a mistake,” he told a news conference. “This is the result of a discussion I had with every leader,” he added.
About 5,100 French soldiers are deployed in the five West African countries, making it the largest military operation abroad.
Macron said military operations should focus on the region bordering Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the epicenter of the fight against jihadist groups. He welcomed the deployment of a 1,200-strong Chadian battalion in that area over the next few days.
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