France, Sa­hel lead­ers gather for sum­mit on anti-ji­had cam­paign

Al­lies have notched up ‘real suc­cesses over the 6 months, neu­tral­iz­ing feared lead­ers,’ says Macron

Arab News - - News Middle East - AFP Nouak­chott

Lead­ers from five West African coun­tries and their ally France gath­ered on Tues­day to take stock of a new strat­egy to in­ten­sify the fight against in­sur­gents in the Sa­hel.

Meeting in the Mau­ri­ta­nian cap­i­tal Nouak­chott, the pres­i­dents were to re­view a cam­paign that they re­booted in Jan­uary af­ter a string of re­ver­sals.

Since then, the ter­ror­ists have con­tin­ued to carry out al­most daily at­tacks, but they are also under pres­sure, los­ing a key leader to a French raid and fight­ing in­ter­nally, say se­cu­rity sources.

Wear­ing a mask as he ar­rived for his first trip out­side Europe since the start of the coro­n­avirus epi­demic, French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron said the sum­mit sought to “con­sol­i­date the gains.”

The al­lies have notched up “real suc­cesses over the past six months, neu­tral­iz­ing feared lead­ers,” he said, prais­ing the “up­scal­ing of in­ter­ven­tion” by Sa­hel armies.

Macron hosted a sum­mit in Jan­uary to help se­cure a stronger pub­lic com­mit­ment from Burk­ina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mau­ri­ta­nia and Niger at a time of deep­en­ing con­cern in France af­ter it lost 13 troops in a helicopter crash.

The in­sur­gency kicked off in north­ern Mali in 2012, dur­ing a re­bel­lion by Tuareg sep­a­ratists that was later over­taken by the ji­hadists. De­spite thou­sands of UN and

French troops, the con­flict spread to cen­tral Mali, neigh­bor­ing Burk­ina Faso and Niger, stir­ring feuds be­tween eth­nic groups and trig­ger­ing fears for states far­ther south. Thou­sands of sol­diers and civil­ians have been killed, hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple have fled their homes and the economies of the three coun­tries, al­ready among the poor­est in the world, have been griev­ously dam­aged.

Macron ar­rived for a one-day round trip from Europe for a sum­mit ex­pected to last only a few hours, with rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the UN, African Union and EU in at­ten­dance.

Closed-door talks will then open out to in­clude the lead­ers of Ger­many, Spain and Italy, who will be in­cluded over video link.

The meeting marks the first time that Sa­hel al­lies have gath­ered phys­i­cally since the start of the coro­n­avirus crisis.

One pri­or­ity will be to as­sess af­fairs in the “three-bor­der re­gion,” a hotspot of ji­hadism where the fron­tiers of Burk­ina, Niger and Mali con­verge.

France, which added 500 troops to its Sa­hel mis­sion af­ter the sum­mit in the French town of Pau, is co-lead­ing the cam­paign in this re­gion, tar­get­ing a Dae­shaf­fil­i­ated group led by Abou Walid Al-Sahraoui.

Ear­lier this month, French forces in north­ern Mali, helped by a US drone, killed Ab­del­malek Droukdel, the head of Al-Qaeda in the Is­lamic Maghreb (AQIM).

And in a new de­vel­op­ment, ji­hadists re­spec­tively linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh have clashed sev­eral times since the start of the year in Mali and Burk­ina Faso, af­ter long steer­ing clear of one an­other, ac­cord­ing to se­cu­rity ex­perts.

SPEEDREAD

The in­sur­gency kicked off in north­ern Mali in 2012, dur­ing a re­bel­lion by Tuareg sep­a­ratists that was later over­taken by the ji­hadists.

AP

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron be­ing wel­comed on Tues­day by Mau­ri­ta­nia’s Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Ould Gha­zouani at Nouak­chott air­port.

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