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

Public support for France's military presence in the Sahel remains high. Getty Images
Public support for France's military presence in the Sahel remains high. Getty Images

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.

Soldiers carry the coffin of a soldier during an official ceremony in Pau-Uzein on Tuesday. AFP
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.

Updated: December 5, 2019 03:15 AM

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