IFrance and allied African countries have changed course in the fight against Islamist terror groups in the Sahel region. The fight will be concentrated on the particularly vulnerable border area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, said French President Emmanuel Macron on Monday evening after a summit with several counterparts from the Sahel region in Pau in southwestern France. The main enemy there is the terror group "Islamic State of the Great Sahara", an offshoot of the IS terrorist militia.
The summit agreed on a "coalition for the Sahel region". This would include other partners. The five participating countries in the region expressly approved that France would remain militarily active there. In some places there had previously been anti-French resentment. "We have no choice: we need results now," said Macron. He announced that he would send 220 additional soldiers to the region.
The 42-year-old president had invited colleagues, including Ibrahim Boubacar Keita from Mali, to intensify the fight against terrorism. At the end of November, 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter accident in Mali, West Africa. Seven of them were stationed in Pau at the foot of the Pyrenees. In addition to Mali, the G-5 group also includes Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad.
Devastating attack in Niger
Macron's summit was hit by a heavy attack on suspected Islamist extremists in Niger, West Africa. 89 soldiers were killed in the past week, and 77 attackers died. The government in Niamey announced three national days of mourning.
The summit was originally scheduled to take place in December, but was then postponed due to a serious attack in Niger, when 71 soldiers died. The former colonial power of France is heavily represented in West Africa: around 4500 soldiers have so far been deployed on the "Barkhane" anti-terror mission. Macron had publicly questioned the dangerous operation after the death of French soldiers, but then assured that his country would continue to fight terrorists.
Macron now wants to bring more partners on board to face terrorism. This is also a sensitive issue. Germany has already refused requests for participation in a deployment of European special forces to fight Islamists in Mali twice. According to information from the French revelation sheet "Le Canard Enchaîné", only Estonia, Belgium, Denmark and the Czech Republic have so far signaled that they want to move. Macron explicitly praised the collaboration with the Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) – at the G-7 summit in Biarritz last August they both campaigned for an international partnership for more security and stability in the Sahel zone.
Trump has to be convinced
Macron especially wants to make Europeans responsible. That is why EU Council leader Charles Michel and UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres were invited to dinner in Pau. There is concern in Paris about the Americans: the Pentagon is considering reducing or withdrawing special forces deployed in West Africa, according to a December New York Times report. He hoped that he could convince his American colleague Donald Trump to leave troops in the Sahel region, Macron said
Several armed groups are active in the countries of the Sahel region – an area that extends south of the Sahara from the Atlantic to the Red Sea. Some have pledged allegiance to the Islamic State or Al Qaeda terror groups. The neighboring countries Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, but also Nigeria, have been particularly affected by attacks in recent months. Despite the military presence of a number of international powers, the situation is steadily worsening: According to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies think tank, the number of attacks by extremists has doubled every year since 2015; in 2019, there were around 700.
Difficult conditions in the Sahel zone
In their now almost daily attacks, the terror groups benefit from regional ethnic tensions, which they exploit. Other factors play into the hands of extremists: The Sahel states are among the poorest in the world, with high population growth and poor access to education and health. Governments often have little control in the desert-like expanse outside of cities; in addition to the jihadists, criminal networks and people smugglers take advantage of this.
In mid-December, the Sahel states requested a stronger mandate from the United Nations for the UN mission to stabilize the country (Minusma), which has been based in Mali since 2013. So far, it has been largely ineffective in the fight against Islamist terror groups in the region. Up to 1100 Bundeswehr soldiers are also deployed in Mali. They are part of the Minusma and the EU training mission EUTM Mali. Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer (CDU) asked in the “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung” at the end of December whether the Bundeswehr did not need “a more robust training mandate”.
. (tagsToTranslate) Emmanuel Macron (t) Donald Trump (t) Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (t) IS (t) CDU (t) European Union (t) United Nations