French President Emmanuel Macron participates in a ceremony in southwestern France, Monday, January 13, in memory of the seven French soldiers who were killed in Mali in November 2019, ahead of a meeting with G5 Sahel Heads of State that include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger.
READ MORE: The meeting comes amid an attack Thursday by suspected jihadists on a Niger army base where the death toll had risen to at least 89, four security sources said, surpassing a raid last month that killed 71 soldiers as the deadliest against Nigerien forces in years.
Macron summoned the leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania to the southwestern French town of Pau to discuss the battle against the insurgents in the Sahel, an arid region just below the Sahara desert.
France, the former colonial power, has 4,500 troops in Mali and the wider Sahel, but security has been progressively worsening.
Militants linked to al Qaida and Islamic State have strengthened their foothold, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.
Criticized in France for allowing French troops to get bogged down and facing growing hostility in West Africa for failing to restore stability, Macron and the French government are becoming increasingly frustrated. Macron said in December he wanted the West African leaders to clarify whether they want and need “our presence."
French troops were hailed as heroes in 2013, when their intervention helped prevent an Islamist militant push to the Malian capital Bamako. But their standing has slipped as the security situation deteriorated. At least 89 local soldiers were killed in a suspected jihadist attack on an army base in Niger this weekend, four security sources said.
The summit is being held in Pau as the town hosts a military base from which several French soldiers were killed in a helicopter collision in Mali in November. European Union representatives will also join the summit as France seeks more support from allies. (Reuters/VOA)