French President Emmanuel Macron warned on Tuesday that withdrawing French troops deployed in North Africa’s Sahel region would be a mistake, arguing that a slip in the fight against terrorist groups in the region could have repercussions for the continent. and Europe in general.
“I think that precipitating a French withdrawal … would be a mistake,” Macron told reporters after a two-day summit with the leaders of the Sahel countries Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad.
“I believe that the year 2020 has borne fruit, it has allowed the victories we expected,” he said, also citing the “significant re-engagement of Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger” in the fight against terrorist groups.
France increased its troops in the Sahel by 600 last year after a similar summit in Pau, bringing the total number of French soldiers deployed there as part of Operation Barkhane to 5,100.
The military operation was launched in 2014, but has been under pressure for the past two years due to local resentment over the French presence and the rising death toll of French troops: 27 French soldiers lost their lives in 2019 and 2020, almost the half of the total since then. the start of the operation.
Macron said the rise of French boots on the ground has led to significant victories, including the deaths of Abdelmalek Droukel, then leader of Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), and Bah ag Moussa, a military chief of the Group of Support for. Islam and Muslims (GSIM).
“We are there because we have a shared destiny with the Sahel. If the Sahel falls into the hands of terrorism, Africa will gradually fall into the hands of Islamic terrorists and Europe will experience the consequences of this tragedy very clearly. So I believe it. It is our duty to stand. by his side, “said Macron, who virtually attended the summit.
“It would be paradoxical to weaken our presence at a time when we have a political and military alignment favorable to achieving our objectives,” he emphasized.
He said the challenge in the future is to take advantage of these victories and go “further and stronger” to “try to cut off the heads” of the groups linked to Al Qaeda.
“We must not release pressure on terrorist groups,” he continued.
He also noted that France’s call for greater European support has been answered with the deployment in the second half of 2020 of a Takuba Task Force made up of troops from Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Sweden. . and the UK.
He said the task force is also “attracting the interest of a growing number of countries, particularly in eastern and southern Europe” and that Joe Biden’s new US administration had also indicated that it would involve more.
G5 Sahel leaders also agreed at the summit that the revitalized military operation must be accompanied by a political and civil “surge” with state services, including law enforcement, the judiciary and education, returning to force. in the newly liberated areas. This is expected to reduce the recruiting capacity of terrorist groups.
According to Crisis Action, 2020 was the deadliest year for civilians in the Sahel. the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) also that violence in the African region has displaced more than 2 million people, a figure that quadrupled in just two years.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism