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Mali Says Chad to Send 1,000 Additional Troops as France Backs Off

FILE - French soldiers of the Barkane operation seek protection in a shelter during a rocket attack at the Gao army base in Mali, Dec. 5, 2021.

Mali's foreign affairs ministry said that Chad planned to deploy 1,000 additional soldiers to Mali to reinforce its troops battling insurgents there, as France scales back its military presence in Africa's Sahel Region.

Chadian soldiers make up nearly 1,400 of the United Nations' 13,000-troop peacekeeping force in north and central Mali, where an Islamist insurgency has flourished despite a nine-year effort by international armies to contain it.

The upcoming deployment will reinforce those and other Chadian troops as former colonial ruler France scales back its 5,000-strong regional counterterrorism mission known as Barkhane, Mali's foreign affairs ministry said in a statement late Friday.

"The deployment is part of a bilateral framework at the request of the government of Chad for reinforcing its contingent in Northern Mali following the reconfiguration of the Barkhane force," the ministry said in a statement.

President Emmanuel Macron on Friday canceled a December 20-21 trip to Mali to visit French troops amid concerns over the spread of the omicron coronavirus variant.

Chad government spokesperson Azem Bermendoa told Reuters Saturday that additional troops would soon be sent to Mali, but he declined to specify the size of the contingent or a deployment timeline.

"After the withdrawal of French troops, we found it urgent to strengthen the operational and tactical capacity of our contingent while waiting for the Malian army and the (U.N.) Blue Helmets to reorganize their deployments," Bermendoa said.

Chad deployed some 1,000 soldiers to the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali in February to reinforce national armies after France first publicly mulled reducing its regional presence.

France plans to withdraw nearly half of its contingent by 2023, moving more assets to Niger, and encouraging other European special forces to work alongside local armies.