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France Reconsiders Military Presence in Sahel Region

The French Defense Minister Florence Parly says France will reconsider its military presence and strategy in the Sahel region and probably reduce military deployment as part of Operation Barkhane after considerable military successes in 2020.

“We will most likely have to adjust this device: a reinforcement by definition is temporary,” Florence Parly told daily Le Parisien in an interview published on Monday, while responding to a question of additional reinforcement of 600 soldiers which brought the strength of Barkhane forces to 5,100 troops in 2020.

She said a conclusive decision on the subject matter will be taken at the next joint summit of France and the G5 Sahel countries in February in the Chadian capital N’djamena, by President Emmanuel Macron and the head of the armies.

The French Defense Minister further said that the Barkhane forces achieved major military success last year after neutralising several senior members of al-Qaeda, Daesh/ISIS and affiliated terror groups in the Grand Sahara in an area which borders Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger by attacking and disrupting their supply chains.

But following two recent attacks which left five French soldiers dead, the defense minister conceded the security conditions remain difficult due to the “pernicious methods of guerrilla warfare” which terrorist groups in the region have adopted.

“At this very moment, we are working on the evolutions of the Barkhane force in the coming months,” she said.

The French Defense Minister ruled out any negotiations with terror groups “which murder indiscriminately and have blood on their hands”, but added willingness to talk to those who have “laid down their arms and who are not motivated by a radical and criminal ideology”, under the 2015 framework of Algiers agreement for peace and reconciliation which is yet to be implemented.

Parly also shoved aside certain criticisms from the opposition on the usefulness of operation Barkhane launched nine years ago and France lacking support in the fight against terrorism.

She said, in the coming months, a special joint team of European and American troops called the Takuba force, will be fully operational in the region to fight alongside the Malian armed forces, in particular in Menaka, an active sector for Al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups, where the recent attacks took place.

49 French soldiers have died since 2013 when Operation Barkhane was launched.

In Mali last week, five French soldiers were killed and others injured in two separate incidents after their armoured vehicle hit an improvised explosive device (IED). This was according to the French minister of armed forces.

Over 5,000 French soldiers are deployed under Operation Barkhane which is spearheaded by France alongside the G5 Sahel countries (Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad), to battle terrorist groups in the region, particularly al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and Daesh/ISIS in the Greater Sahara.

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