France to send 600 more troops to battle terrorism in the sub-Sahara

Announcement from Paris follows years of deadly attacks and growing instability in remote desert region

Soldiers from the French Army set up a Temporary Operative Advanced Base (BOAT) during the Bourgou IV operationNovember 9, 2019. For two weeks in early November, soldiers of the French Army set up a Temporary Operative Advanced Base (BOAT) every evening during the Bourgou IV operation, in the area of the three borders between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
There, with their Malian, Burkinabe and Nigerian partners, they combed forests and swamps in search of weapons caches and other jihadist equipment in an area known to harbour them. / AFP / MICHELE CATTANI

France is to send another 600 troops to the Sahel, increasing the number of its soldiers in the desert region to 5,100.

France’s Ministry for the Armed Forces said most of the reinforcements would be sent to the border area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

The remote area has experienced regular terrorist attacks by extremists loyal to Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and ISIS.

On Sunday, local media in Burkina Faso reported at least 20 civilians had been killed in the Gorgadji area in the country’s restive Seno province.

French forces, which have been active in the region since the country’s 2013 intervention in Mali, are supported in the Sahel by other European special forces and troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

France will also send 100 support vehicles, some heavily armoured, and reach the five Sahel nations before the end of the month.

Another contingent of the French forces will be involved in training local troops from the five nations.

French President Emmanuel Macron earlier announced that 220 soldiers would be sent to the Pau summit with the Sahel nations in January.

The troop escalation appears to have been motivated in part by lobbying from the French military as Paris looks to change the situation in the Sahel.

French Chief of the Defence Staff, Gen Francois Lecointre, had warned in January that the 4,500 troops supporting Operation Barkhane, the multinational military operation in the Sahel, was insufficient, Le Monde reported.

"In this extremely vast area, the means that are made available to Operation Barkhane are not sufficient to have soldiers deployed 24 hours a day, seven days a week," he said. “But 4,500 men in the Sahel, it's ridiculous."

The beginning of 2020 in Burkina Faso and the wider Sahel has been bloody.

At the start of January, 14 people, including seven children, were killed when a bus triggered a roadside bomb in northern Burkina Faso.

Later in the month, the country declared two days of mourning after 36 civilians were killed in an attack on an attack on a village market in Sanmatenga province.

Burkina Faso had for years been spared the kind of extremist attacks Mali was suffering.

A separatist ethnic insurgency in Mali’s north was hijacked by extremists, leading to the French intervention in 2013.

But deadly violence arrived in Burkina Faso during two attacks in 2016 and 2017 in the capital of Ouagadougou. Both were aimed at sites popular with foreigners.

Frequent attacks in the country’s north and east already have displaced more than a half million people, the UN says.

The continuing international military operation in the region has not been without cost to France.

In November 13 troops were killed when two helicopters crashed during an operation in the border region.

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