Macron to seek African approval for French military presence in Sahel

French President calls for reassessment of country’s involvement in region after deadly helicopter crash

HERTFORD, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 04: French President Emmanuel Macron gives a press conference at the NATO summit at the Grove hotel on December 4, 2019 in Watford, England. France and the UK signed the Treaty of Dunkirk in 1947 in the aftermath of WW2 cementing a mutual alliance in the event of an attack by Germany or the Soviet Union. The Benelux countries joined the Treaty and in April 1949 expanded further to include North America and Canada followed by Portugal, Italy, Norway, Denmark and Iceland. This new military alliance became the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO). The organisation grew with Greece and Turkey becoming members and a re-armed West Germany was permitted in 1955. This encouraged the creation of the Soviet-led Warsaw Pact delineating the two sides of the Cold War. This year marks the 70th anniversary of NATO. (Photo by Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)
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West African leaders need to make it clear that they want and need France’s military presence, President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday.

The comments came days after Paris hosted a national ceremony honouring 13 soldiers killed in a helicopter crash while pursuing extremists in Mali last week.

Mr Macron said France would organise a summit for December 16 to discuss the issue with Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania, countries that contribute to a regional counter-terrorism force known as the G5 Sahel.

“Do they want our presence, do they need us? I want clear answers on this,” Mr Macron said.

He said such a statement was a condition for keeping French troops in the region.

TOPSHOT - Soldiers carry the coffin of a soldier of the 5th RHC (Fighter Helicopter Regiment) who died in a helicopter collision in Mali, during the official ceremony in Pau-Uzein on December 03 2019,southwestern France. The soldiers died when two helicopters collided last Monday while pursuing jihadists in northern Mali, where militant violence has soared in recent months. / AFP / GAIZKA IROZ
Soldiers carry the coffin of a soldier during an official ceremony in Pau-Uzein on Tuesday. AFP

After the crash, which caused France’s highest military death toll in decades, Mr Macron said his country's involvement needed to be rethought.

He called on Wednesday for a new “framework and political conditions” for the mission.

Mr Macron said France was not militarily involved in West Africa’s arid Sahel region for colonial, imperialist or economic reasons.

“We’re there for the security of the region and our own security,” he said.

The French military has broad support in France, which has suffered repeated, fatal attacks by ISIS extremists.

An ISIS-affiliated group claimed responsibility for the helicopter crash without offering evidence, but the claim was quickly denied by French authorities.

The helicopter deaths have drawn new attention to a worrying front in the global fight against extremism, one in which France and local countries have pleaded for more support.

In a surge of violence in recent weeks, attackers often linked to ISIS have killed scores of troops in the Sahel region.

Some in Mali, a former colony of France, have protested the country’s military presence there.

There is resentment lingering from the colonial past, but some of the animosity also stems from the growing violence.

France’s operation in West and Central Africa is its largest overseas military mission, with 4,500 personnel.

It intervened in Mali in 2013 after extremists seized control of major towns in the country’s north.