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
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.
The insurgency kicked off in northern Mali in 2012, during a rebellion by Tuareg separatists that was later overtaken by the jihadists.
French President Emmanuel Macron being welcomed on Tuesday by Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani at Nouakchott airport.