RTL Today – France, Sahel leaders reflect on state of anti-jihad campaign

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Leaders of five West African countries and their ally, France, meet on Tuesday to discuss their troubled efforts to stem a jihadist offensive taking place in the Sahel.

Meeting in Nouakchott, the Mauritanian capital, the presidents will take stock almost six months after the restart of their campaign in Pau, in the southwest of France.

Since then, jihadists have continued to carry out attacks almost daily, although they have also lost a key leader and two rebel groups are said to disagree.

French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the summit in January to secure public commitment from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger at a time of growing concern in France after the loss of 13 soldiers in an accident ‘helicopter.

The insurgency began in northern Mali in 2012, during a rebellion of Tuareg separatists which was later overtaken by jihadists.

Despite thousands of UN and French troops, conflict has spread to central Mali, neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, provoking quarrels between ethnic groups and raising fears for states further south .

Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, hundreds of thousands have fled their homes and the economies of the three countries, already among the poorest in the world, have been severely damaged.

– “Three-border” region –

Macron will make a one-day return trip to Mauritania for the summit.

Talks are expected to last only a few hours, but they will also mark the first time that Sahel allies have met since the coronavirus pandemic, the meetings were held in person.

One of the priorities will be to assess cases in the “three-border region”, a center of jihadism where the borders of Burkina, Niger and Mali converge.

France, which added 500 soldiers to its mission in the Sahel after Pau, co-directs the campaign in this region, targeting an Islamic State-affiliated group led by Abu Walid al-Sahraoui.

Earlier this month, French forces in northern Mali, assisted by an American drone, killed Abdelmalek Droukdel, the head of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

And in a new development, the jihadists respectively linked to al-Qaeda and to the Islamic State have clashed several times since the beginning of the year in Mali and Burkina, after having long apart, according to experts in security.

Despite this, the problems in the Sahel are deep.

Local armies are ill-equipped and underfunded, human rights groups say troops are to blame for hundreds of murders and other abuses of civilians, and in some areas, government presence has evaporated.

Faithful French ally, Chad, has yet to deliver on its promise to send troops to the Three Borders region, and a high-profile initiative to create a 5,000-strong G5 Sahel force is advancing wrong.

In Mali, meanwhile, anger over insecurity fueled dissatisfaction with the restrictions on coronaviruses and the outcome of the elections, creating a political crisis for President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

Burkina and Niger are expected to hold presidential elections by the end of the year, raising concerns about the outcome.

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