France Ramps Up Sahel Military Presence to Counter Jihadist Threat


France said Sunday it was boosting its military presence in the Sahel by adding a further 600 troops to its 4,500-strong operation in Mali and four other countries in the region.

Defense Minister Florence Parly said in a statement that the bulk of the reinforcements would be deployed by the end of the month in the border zone linking Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger to counter jihadist violence.

France, seeking to underline its regional commitment after losing 13 of its own troops in a deadly air collision last November, will also send around 100 armored vehicles to the region, a military source told AFP. 

The move was in response to a rise in violence that has fed a feeling of increased insecurity among locals.

The November accident was France's largest military loss in decades and prompted President Emmanuel Macron to say Paris would begin a thorough review of its Operation Barkhane, with "all options on the table."

Macron earlier this month announced 220 fresh troops for the region at a G5 Sahel summit where he hosted the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger, Mali and Mauritania.

The defense ministry statement said the beefing up of the mission underlined France's commitment to the mission, but also stressed that Paris's allies were also mobilizing their own forces.

Notably, Chad is soon slated to send in an extra battalion while the Czech Republic is seeking parliamentary approval for 60 troops to join the effort.

Paris hopes other EU allies will follow suit.

Parly returned last week from a visit to the United States where she met U.S. counterpart Mark Esper and asked for Washington's support in "burden sharing" in the Sahel. 

The top commander of American forces in Africa, General Stephen Townsend, has backed that view while urging France's EU allies to play a greater regional role.

The increase in numbers will soothe the fears of French Chief of Staff General Francois Lecointre, who had been pushing for greater resources, telling French lawmakers in November that current troop levels for such wide expanse of territory on a mission already into its seventh year was "derisory."

France has lost 41 soldiers during the mission to date as its forces seek to train up local fighters who are woefully unprepared to take on jihadist groups.

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