French President Emmanuel Macron vows to ‘decapitate’ Sahel terrorist groups

There will be no immediate cut in French troop numbers, leader says

French President Emmanuel Macron on Tuesday vowed to step up efforts to “decapitate” terrorist groups in the Sahel and said there would be no immediate reduction of France’s military presence in the region.

Mr Macron, taking part in a summit with the leaders of the G5 Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, called out the Al Qaeda-linked Group to Support Islam and Muslims as a target for enhanced operations.

"We are re-engaging our forces in order to decapitate these organisations,” he told the summit in N’Djamena, Chad.

He said the challenge of the summit was to "take a next step, further and stronger".

“We must not release pressure on terrorist groups," Mr Macron said.

It had been suggested that Mr Macron could announce a withdrawal of France’s 5,100 troops in the region, where 55 of its soldiers have been killed in its counter-insurgency efforts.

France's military intervention, which began in 2013, has been expensive and Mr Macron called for greater financing of the joint force fighting terrorism in the Sahel.

He had said that any change would be dependent on the involvement of partner countries.

"Changes that are likely to be significant will be made to our military deployment in the Sahel when the time comes, but they will not be made immediately," Mr Macron said.

He said regional leaders had warned him against a rapid reduction in soldiers.

"A French withdrawal, a massive withdrawal of men, which is a possibility I have considered, would be a mistake," Mr Macron said.

"It would be paradoxical to weaken our deployment at a time when we have a political and military alignment that enables us to reach our goals," he added.

On Tuesday, Mr Macron appeared to up the ante as he applauded military gains made in the last year and noted the impact of greater European involvement in the Sahel.

He said it was crucial that the G5 Sahel countries attained public support for the counter-insurgency strategy while insisting that development and aid was the long-term solution to instability.

"We have succeeded in gaining some real successes in the three-border zone," Mr Macron said, referring to a flashpoint area where the frontiers of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge.

"The GSIM enemy has lost its hold and sustained numerous losses. The international mobilisation for the Sahel has never been as strong.”

French President Emmanuel Macron delivers his speech after a meeting via video-conference with leaders of the G5 Sahel two-day summit in N'Djamena, at the Elysee Presidential Palace in Paris, on February 16, 2021. France will intensify its efforts to help "decapitate" Qaeda-linked groups in the Sahel, President Emmanuel Macron told regional leaders via video conference. / AFP / POOL / Francois Mori

Chad announced that it will send 1,200 extra troops to support the fight. President Idriss Deby requested that the international community urgently step up funding for development to cut off a potential recruitment tool for extremists.