French President Emmanuel Macron has expressed his country’s preparedness to beef up its military presence in the Sahel to fight alongside African forces against extremist militants in the region.
“France is ready, not only to maintain, but if necessary to strengthen its engagement in the region because the fight against terrorism in the Sahel is essential, in my opinion,” Macron said during a joint news conference with his Nigerien counterpart Mahamadou Issoufou in the Niger capital Niamey on Saturday.
“The fight is not won today … it is essential not only to maintain but to further improve our agility on the ground, to innovate more and to focus our priorities on the regions identified as the most vulnerable,” he added.
Macron’s remarks come despite France’s previous plans to withdraw from the Sahel region with the help of a new regional African military force, known as the G5 Sahel.
The G5 Sahel, which consists of troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, began its official operations in November. The African force is planned to patrol the region in collaboration with 4,000 French troops deployed there.
Over the recent years, the vast, poor, arid and politically volatile Sahara has turned into a safe haven and a training ground for extremist militants, including a local al-Qaeda affiliate and Daesh.
The Sahel region has become a magnet for Daesh since Libya descended into chaos in 2011.
In 2012, al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists overran the north of neighboring Mali, including the fabled desert city of Timbuktu.
Thousands of people have died in bombings and tens of thousands have fled their homes across the region.
The crisis leapt on to the front pages and TV screens in the United States in October when four US special forces troops were killed as they patrolled with Nigerien troops near the Niger-Mali border.
France intervened in 2013 to drive the extremists back but swathes of central and northern Mali remain wracked by violence, which has spilled across its borders.