By Christian Boehmer, dpa
Brussels (dpa) – France will continue its engagement to combat Islamist terror in the Sahel region despite the casualties suffered so far, French President Emmanuel Macron said after a video meeting with counterparts from the G5 Sahel states and other countries.
Some weeks ago, Macron had suggested he wanted to adjust the deployment in the region, where 57 French soldiers have died since the operation began seven years ago.
France is currently deploying 5,100 soldiers from its anti-terrorism mission Barkhane to support the G5 Sahel in their operations in the region.
His comments followed a video meeting of the member states of the G5 Sahel Alliance – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – and other governments to discuss ways to combat increasing terrorism in the region.
Numerous terrorist groups are active in the region, which stretches from Senegal in the west all the way to Djibouti in the east.
Some groups have sworn allegiance to Islamic State or to al-Qaeda, while others are local rebel and separatist militant groups.
Fighting terrorism has proven to be extremely difficult in the Sahel, with governments struggling to maintain control of the vast desert area.
In addition, poverty, high unemployment and rapid population growth provide fertile ground for recruitment.
With increasing involvement from partners in the region and Europe, France’s deployment could change, Macron said, without stating how many soldiers would be involved in the mission.
He also repeated his commitment to funding the joint force, saying 40 million euros (48.5 million dollars) was needed annually. A UN mandate for this force is also being discussed, he said.
Macron also praised the Czech Republic, Estonia, Portugal and Sweden, which are all supporting the Takuba task force in the region.
“The European force Takuba is now in place, the number of partners is increasing,” he said. “The Sahel coalition is stronger today.”
He has long called for improved burden-sharing in the fight against terrorism, saying it involves all Europeans.
But Germany refused to get involved, with Foreign Minister Heiko Maas noting after the talks that the country’s Bundeswehr was already participating in a training mission and UN peacekeeping deployment to stabilize Mali.
“That is considerably demanding, that is a dangerous deployment,” Maas said, adding that Germany intended to further develop its involvement there.
“But we do not currently intend to enlist ourselves in other missions as well,” he said.
Earlier on Tuesday, Macron tweeted that European countries needed to join the fight against Islamist terrorism in the Sahel region, arguing that events there matter not only for residents, but also for European security.
On Monday, when the two-day summit opened, several African heads of state said the joint force to fight terrorism in the region had shown initial signs of success but needed more international support and funding to realize its goals.