France launches coalition in Sahel to fight rising jihadist violence


DAKAR / PARIS (Reuters) – France on Friday launched a coalition of West African and European allies to fight jihadist militants in the Sahel region, in the hope that more political cooperation and special force troops will boost a military effort that has so far failed to quell the violence.Paris was to host virtual meetings of 45 defense and foreign ministers to launch the new coalition, first announced at a summit in January.

France has deployed thousands of soldiers to the arid region south of the Sahara Desert since 2013, and now has 5,100 soldiers to fight Islamist insurgencies. But the violence of groups linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic State has increased and the security situation has deteriorated over the past year.

Paris has long declared that it wants more support from other European countries and cooperation between the states of the region.

The revamped coalition would provide more European special forces aid to regional armies and financial aid from countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

“Today in the Sahel, victory is possible. Our partners are aware of this, ”a senior official in the office of the French president told journalists before the launch.

Although French and Sahel forces have made recent progress, including the murder of Al-Qaeda’s North African leader Abdelmalek Droukdel, militants have continued their attacks, pushing further south toward countries coastal areas such as Côte d’Ivoire.

Meanwhile, reported human rights violations, including alleged extrajudicial killings of civilians by national armies, have been condemned.

“If there are abuses against civilians, you cannot expect their collaboration,” said Drissa Traore, a Malian human rights activist, on Thursday.

Report by Aaron Ross in Dakar, Bate Felix and John Irish Paris; Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Peter Graff

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