Despite the coup, France and its allies continue their efforts with a new task force in Mali

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FILE PHOTO: A French soldier from the “Belleface” Desert Tactical Group (GTD) uses a sniffer dog to check for the presence of explosives during an area control operation in the Gourma region during Operation Barkhane in Ndaki, Mali, July 29, 2019. REUTERS / Benoit Tessier / File Photo

PARIS (Reuters) – European special forces are expected to start fighting alongside Malian troops against Islamist militants in the coming weeks despite a military coup that toppled President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, French officials said Thursday .

The junta, which replaced senior military officials appointed by the previous administration on Wednesday, is in consultation on a transition plan with Malian political parties and civil society groups.

A former colonial power, France has more than 5,100 people spread across the region, with much of Mali operating against the rise of militancy. Paris is counting on a new task force made up of hundreds of European special forces, including Estonia, Italy, Sweden and the Czech Republic to join its operations and integrate local battalions to improve their effectiveness.

France on Wednesday hosted a meeting of some 18 European and international partners, including EU countries operating in the country and the United States to ensure that none of them are considering suspending their activities or support.

“Regarding Takouba (special forces working group), the schedule is maintained,” said an official from the French armed forces ministry, adding that the objective was to start joint operations in the coming weeks.

A second official said the task force is expected to be at full operational capacity by February 2021.

A European military training mission has been suspended, but said it would resume operations once the transition is made.

One of the officials said the junta had made it clear that it did not want to halt military operations, fearing that this would create a security vacuum.

Mali has struggled to find stability since 2012 when a Tuareg rebellion in the north was hijacked by Islamist militants. The partners fear that the instability of Bamako will derail the fight against these groups.

Reporting by John Irish; edited by Bate Felix and Philippa Fletcher

Our standards:Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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