France to send 600 extra troops to the Sahel
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French defence chiefs on Sunday ordered the deployment of 600 soldiers to reinforce Operation Barkhane, the anti-jihadist force in the Sahel region of Africa.
"The bulk of the reinforcements will be sent to the so-called three frontiers zone between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger," said the armed forces minister Florence Parly in a communiqué.
"The other part will be directly involved with the troops of the G5 Sahel in the fighting with the terrorists."
The soldiers will be in the combat zone by the end of February and will travel with tanks and light armoured vehicles as well as logistical support.
Jihadist groups have stepped up their attacks in the region over recent months leading to civilian and military casualties.
In November, 13 French soliders died in Mali when two helicopters collided as they were on their way to an operation.
It is understood a review of the deployment will be carried out in August. "This significant step in our engagement in the Sahel is a key moment for the mobilisation of our European partners and the reinforcement of the G5 forces," said Parly's communiqué.
"If France is going to be more involved, it does not intend to do so alone."
Tchad is poised to deploy another battalion of troops and the Czech government is considering whether to send 60 soldiers to the Takuba, a unit of European special forces.
Parly's announcement comes just after her return from a visit to the United States where she met her counterpart, Mark Esper, as part of attempts to convince the Americans to continue their involvement in Africa where their logistics and intelligence have been considered crucial for Barkhane.
Esper's decision is expected after he completes a global troop review aimed at freeing up more resources to address challenges from China’s military.
General Stephen Townsend, America's top soldier in Africa, warned a congressional hearing on 30 January against withdrawing support from France in the Sahel. "It would mean that efforts against militant groups would not go in a good direction," he said.
He also urged other European countries to assist France in the area.
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