French defence minister in Africa's Sahel region for security talks
France’s defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian visited Mali on Tuesday at the start of a tour of Africa’s Sahel region continuing ongoing efforts to fight the “threat of destabilisation” across the vast, unruly region.
Le Drian travelled to the northern city of Gao in a plane filled with cargo for troops from France’s Operation Serval that has been stationed there since last January at the start of the successful French-led offensive to wrest control of northern Mali from Al-Qadea linked extremists.
"We will remain by the side of the Malian army, and also MINUSMA, for as long as it takes," Le Drian told reporters as he met with troops and African soldiers from MINUSMA, the United Nations peacekeeping mission there.
Le Drian said he would return on 20 January to sign a deal reaffirming France’s involvement in fighting against the rise of Islamists in the sandy hinterlands stretching from Senegal in the west, to Somalia on the continent’s eastern coast.
Military tactics will also shift in the New Year to a more regional approach, according to Le Drian, that would see all forces banded together to better combat growing unrest in neighbouring countries as well.
French troops in Mali have been reduced by half since the operation began almost one year ago on 11 January, and are set to be lowered to 1,000 by the spring from a high of 5,000 last year.
Le Drian will travel to Niger on Wednesday, followed by Chad the next day.
He will celebrate New Year’s Eve with French troops in the capital Bamako after meeting with Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar.