France and Africa’s Sahel countries have agreed to step up military cooperation to fight the jihadist presence in the region.
The G5 Sahel framework for coordination of regional cooperation was formed in 2014. Its members are Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
Following a summit in France hosted by president Emanuel Macron, the countries said they will join forces and will focus their efforts on tackling the Islamic State group. Macron also urged the United States to maintain its support amid reports that it might reduce its military presence in Africa.
Last month, Macron threatened to withdraw France’s troops from the region if the partners failed to express their support for the French military presence: “I can’t have French troops on the ground in the Sahel when there is ambiguity towards anti-French movements and sometimes comments made by politicians and ministers”, he said.
Lately, jihadist attacks on civilians and troops have increased amid a growing anti-French sentiment in the five countries, triggered by Paris’ handling of an uprising by fighters that has resulted in hundreds of their soldiers killed.
France’s anti-terrorist forces in the region are supported by the UK with heavy-lift helicopters. The US is providing intelligence and funding for the G5 and the EU has been running military training missions. France, however, has repeatedly warned that the other countries’ logistical support seems symbolic, compared to its efforts in the region.
“The priority is Islamic State in the Grand Sahara. It is our priority because it is the most dangerous. We have no choice, we need results”, Macron said, and added that another 220 French troops will be sent to the fight, with more European special forces expected to join in the coming months.