G5 Sahel summit

Macron takes aim at Sahel jihadist groups, Chad to send troops

Macron, pictured speaking to the G5 Sahel summit via video link, is under pressure at home to reduce France's anti-jihadist mission
Macron, pictured speaking to the G5 Sahel summit via video link, is under pressure at home to reduce France's anti-jihadist mission Francois Mori POOL/AFP

France will intensify its efforts to defeat al-Qaeda-linked groups in the Sahel, President Emmanuel Macron told regional leaders via video conference on Tuesday. Meanwhile, Chad has promised to send 1,200 troops to combat jihadists in the zone.

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President Macron has urged the so-called G5 Sahel nations - Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger - to expand their own anti-terror fight and work on restoring government control and services in areas where jihadist fighters operate, adding that there "will not be an immediate reduction" of French troops in the region.

"We are re-engaging our forces in order to decapitate these organisations," Macron said during a two-day summit hosted from the Chadian capital, N'Djamena.

Macron said the efforts would focus on combatting the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and in particular one of its main armed groups, Katiba Macina.

Screen grab of a video by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims showing jihadists based in central Mali
Screen grab of a video by the Group to Support Islam and Muslims showing jihadists based in central Mali GSIM

The aim is "to strengthen actions against terrorism" while also carrying out a "political jolt ... give the people of the Sahel something to hope for," he said.

The French leader stressed that it was essential for states fighting jihadists to win public support for counter-insurgency efforts.

Chad sends troops

Chad will send 1,200 troops to a flashpoint Sahel border zone, its president said Monday.

The troops will be deployed to the so-called "three border" zone between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, President Idriss Deby Itno announced on Twitter on the fringes of the regional summit.

Chad, which reputedly has the best armed forces among the G5 Sahel nations, already promised a year ago to send a battalion to the area.

French Sahel deployment

The meeting comes a year after France boosted its Sahel deployment, seeking to wrest back control in the brutal, long-running battle.

But despite occasional military successes, jihadists remain in control of vast swathes of territory and attacks are unrelenting.

Just hours before the summit opened, Malian sources said two troops had been killed by a roadside bomb in central Mali.

The deaths bring to 29 the number of Malian, UN and French troops killed since the start of the year, according to a tally by the French AFP news agency.

US blacklist

The GSIM has claimed responsibility for some of the biggest attacks in the Sahel since its official launch in 2017. The US State Department placed the group on its blacklist of terrorist organisations in September 2018.

GSIM's Katiba Macina armed faction is led by a radical preacher, Amadou Koufa, a member of the Fulani, also called Peul, community.

He has launched attacks in central Mali, an ethnic powderkeg, recruiting largely among members of his own community.

As a result, the wider Fulani population in the region has been blamed for attacks carried out by the Katiba Macina.

Other ethnic groups, notably the Dogon and Bambara, have formed so-called self-defence forces, setting the scene for bloody tit-for-tat violence.

(With agencies)

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