France says it will not draw down its troop presence in Africa’s Sahel region, despite earlier reports that it could bring home hundreds of soldiers following significant gains against extremists.
Addressing via videoconference regional leaders from Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Chad, French President Emmanuel Macron said there would be no immediate reduction of French troops in the Sahel.
Macron said that reducing French troops too quickly and massively from the region, which is a possibility he studied, would be a mistake. So, in the coming months, nothing will change, the French president said.
The pullback of the additional 600 French troops deployed in early 2020 is still on the table and will be discussed later this year. Their probable departure would not have a negative impact, but a change in strategy is needed according to Nicolas Normand, a former ambassador of France to Mali.
“The impact on the ground should be limited because the European force called Takuba can take over and replace those French militaries. Barkhane French forces were so far too independent. The military involvement of the Sahelian forces themselves is not sufficient and [the probable departure of French troops] implies a new type of cooperation with them. There is a need to make them more effective and equip them,” he said.
After the recent killings of top jihadist leaders linked to al-Qaida or Islamic State, France also will intensify its efforts to help decapitate these organizations on the ground.
General Dominique Trinquand, former head of the French military mission to the United Nations, said President Macron is calling to reinforce the global fight against terrorism and using the term “decapitate” refers to targeted missions to eliminate jihadist leaders. To launch such operations, they would use intelligence provided by U.S. and French drones — and local armies.
Currently, 5,100 French soldiers fight extremist groups alongside African and European soldiers in the region. An additional 1,200 Chadian soldiers will soon be deployed in the zone bordering Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.
More than 50 French soldiers have been killed since 2013 while fighting extremists in the region.
A new G-5 Sahel Summit is scheduled to take place later this year.