Emmanuel Macron announces end to French-led operations in Sahel

President calls for new international force to combat terror in West Africa

President Emmanuel Macron has called an end to the French-led Operation Barkhane in Africa’s Sahel region, where France has sent 5,100 troops to fight terrorist groups, including those linked to ISIS and Al Qaeda.

Mr Macron said there would be a transformation of France’s role in the region and the end of the operation in its current form.

He gave no indication of a potential reduction of troop numbers.

"The time has come. The continuation of our commitment in the Sahel will not be the same," Mr Macron said.

He called for a "profound transformation" and a new international force for the region.

France has had some success against Sahel militants in recent months but the situation in the region is extremely fragile.

Paris has become frustrated as there is no apparent end in sight to its operations, with political turmoil on the rise, especially in Mali.

The decision comes days after Col Assimi Goita of Mali took power after removing the country's second president in nine months.

Mr Macron described the move as a "coup within a coup" and temporarily suspended joint operations between French and Malian troops on June 3.

It was reported on Wednesday that France's Defence Cabinet had agreed to cut troop numbers in the region but the figure has not been officially disclosed

Mr Macron delayed a decision on troop reduction after an online conference in February of representatives from the five Sahel countries – Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania – and their allies.

At the conference, Chad said it would send 1,200 troops to complement the 5,100 French soldiers in the area.

"Obviously, France is not going to stay forever in the Sahel," Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said in the Ivory Coast, when asked about a troop reduction.

"It was known since the beginning and obviously it is Africans who have to ensure the security of African countries."

Last year, Paris boosted its troop numbers for its counter-terrorism operation in the Sahel by 600.

That move was meant to be temporary.

Military and diplomatic sources indicated that an "adjustment" in the French presence would depend on the involvement of other European countries in the Takuba Task Force, which is fighting militants in the Sahel alongside troops from Mali and Nigeria.

Those forces have been increased in recent months.

Militants linked to Al Qaeda and ISIS have strengthened their hold in the region, making large areas of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.

Updated: June 11, 2021 03:07 AM

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