France will deploy 600 more soldiers in the fight against Islamists militants in Africa’s Sahel, south of the Sahara, French Defence Minister Florence Parly said on Sunday.
The reinforcements would mostly be sent to the area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, Parly said in a statement. Another part would join the G5 Sahel forces.
Parly added that Chad “should soon deploy an additional battalion” within the joint force of the G5 Sahel, which brings together Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad in the three borders zone. It’s the epicenter of the fight against jihadist groups, including the Islamic State group in the Grand Sahara (ISIS-GS).
“The reinforcement … should allow us to increase the pressure against the ISIS-GS… We will leave no space for those who want to destabilise the Sahel,” she added.
France already has 4,500 soldiers stationed in the Europe-sized region as part of Operation Barkhane, supporting poorly-equipped, impoverished local armies that in 2017 launched a joint anti-jihadist G5 Sahel force.
Despite the French presence and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force dubbed MINUSMA in Mali, the conflict that erupted in the north of that country in 2012 has since spread to its neighbours, especially Burkina Faso and Niger.
Jihadist fighters have recently stepped up their campaign against military and civilian targets. UN chief Antonio Guterres warned last month that “terrorist groups are gaining ground”.
>> Mission impossible for France in the Sahel?
The death of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter accident in Mali on November 25 underlined the challenges France’s armed forces face in the Sahel amid intensifying insurgent attacks and doubts about the effectiveness of its military allies in this vast region to the south of the Sahara Desert.
It was the largest single loss of life for the country’s military forces since 1983.
France launched military operations in January 2013 after Mali asked it to help regain territory seized by Islamist extremists who had hijacked a Tuareg rebellion in the country’s northern desert regions the previous year.
The French military succeeded in this initial task but the jihadist insurgency has since spread throughout Mali and across the border to Niger and Burkina Faso.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, REUTERS)