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Step Up Fight Against Militants, France Tells West Africa’s Leaders

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French President Emmanuel Macron has urged West African leaders to step up efforts in the fight against militants in the Sahel region on both the military and political fronts, with support from the international community.

Macron joined the summit by video that was being held in NDjamena, Chad, with the leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania.

“The challenge of the NDjamena summit is to take a next step, further and stronger,” Macron said from Paris.

“We must not release pressure on terrorist groups.”

He said military operations should keep focusing on the region bordering Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, the epicentre of the fight against militant groups.

Macron also said France has no immediate plans to adjust its military presence in Africa’s Sahel region, and any changes will depend on other countries contributing troops, in a news conference on Tuesday after the summit.

“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.

France, the region’s former colonial power, is searching for an exit strategy after years of military intervention against militant groups.

Its counter-insurgency operation in the Sahel has cost billions and seen 55 French soldiers killed, yet violence is persisting with signs it is spreading to coastal West Africa.

Last year, Paris boosted its troop numbers for its Barkhane counterterrorism operations by 600 to 5,100 soldiers.

France first sent troops into Mali in early 2013 to defeat militant groups that had seized control of the country’s northern half, with the Barkhane operation formally starting in August 2014. The force has claimed successes on the ground.

But Macron, who faces a re-election fight next year, is also aware of the perils faced by French soldiers, 50 of whom have now been killed since 2013.

Macron indicated that he would reassess the situation after the summer, saying there should be an “evolution” of the French contingent into a lighter presence.

“In the coming months we will not change our presence. We hope that we will have concrete results in terms of security in the very next months, for me this means between now and the summer,” Macron said.

“Beyond summer, I want to work with our partners for an evolution of our presence to consolidate our military victory in the region,” he added.

Without giving a timescale, he indicated that over time, the work should be taken over by the French-led Takuba multinational task force.

He said the aim was to have a 2,000-member Takuba force, with a French contingent of 500 soldiers at its core, in close cooperation with the national armies of the region.

The fledgling Takuba force has already seen Czech, Swedish and Estonian troops deployed in the region.

“We are not going to do this immediately but this is what we envisage over time,” Macron said.

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