France hosts G5 Sahel Summit to bolster military force in West Africa

World Today

From left, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, President of Burkina Faso Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, France’s President Emmanuel Macron, Chad’s President Idriss Deby, Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni pose for a group photo during conference to support the fight against Jihadist in the African Sahel region at the Chateau of the La Celle Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, France, Wednesday, Dec. 13, 2017. Presidents, princes and diplomats are in France to breathe life into a young African military force that aims to counter the growing Jihad threat in the Sahel region. (AP Photo/Michel Euler, Pool)

It’s a bid to help West African countries fight terrorism. France and other nations have committed millions of dollars for a new military task force fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel region of West Africa. The pledges happened at a G5 Sahel Summit in Paris, hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

CGTN’s Elena Casas reports.

Intelligence services believe there are only between 500 to 800 jihadists active in the Sahel region. But their ability to disappear in the desert and perpetrate surprise attacks makes them a real threat to countries like Mali.

Islamists took control of northern Mali in 2012 and were forced out by French troops in early 2013.

France has kept 4,000 peacekeeping troops there since, but more resources are needed.

“The five G5 countries have promised to reinforce their presence in the central Sahel,” President Macron said. “And that reinforcement will be both qualitative and quantitative, with an increase in troop numbers and commanders and an accelerated schedule, with operations planned for the first trimester of 2018.”

Leaders at Wednesday’s summit promised to deploy 5,000 troops from G5 countries in the Sahel by mid-2018.

The fear is that jihadist groups who have lost their foothold in the Middle East might try to re-establish themselves in North Africa.

“We are aware that time is of the essence, and after what has happened in the Middle East, with the defeat of Islamists in Syria, there could be repercussions for us,” said Ibrahim Boubacar, President of Mali. “We don’t want that to happen- those who have not been picked up in the Middle East will be in the Sahel. We are determined to make concrete advances against terrorism in the region.”

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates have also agreed to contribute funding to the new taskforce.

The financial contributions promised thus far still don’t add up to the estimated $300 million cost of launching the new task force. A summit planned for Brussels in February aims to persuade European and African nations to stump up the missing cash.