Islamist jihadis in the unstable region have killed thousands of soldiers. French President Emmanuel Macron is thought to want support for a troop drawdown amid rising numbers of French combat deaths.
French President Emmanuel Macron and a group of five African allies are set to meet on Monday to discuss the violent jihadist insurgency across Africa’s Sahel region.
Leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger — are meeting in Chad’s capital city N’Djamena for the two-day summit. Macron will attend via videolink.
Islamist fighters in the Sahel first emerged in northern Mali in 2012. They now control vast swaths of territory in the vast region that stretches across the southern edge of the Sahara desert.
France together with the G5 Sahel nations has been fighting the insurgency. The UN also has a peacekeeping mission in the region.
But thousands of soldiers, UN peacekeepers, and civilians have been killed, according to the UN. More than two million people have fled their homes.
What will the leaders discuss?
Macron is expected to be looking for support to cut French troop numbers.
France, a former colonial power in Mali, currently has 5,100 soldiers in the region as part of its Barkhane operation. It boosted them from 4,500 a year ago.
The operation has had a number of successes, but attacks on French troops have brought combat deaths up to 50, including five killed in December.
This has prompted lawmakers in France to question operation Barkhane’s cost and usefulness.
Last Tuesday, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian called for a “diplomatic, political and development surge” to respond to the situation.
Macron last month opened the door to a drawdown, suggesting France may “adjust” its military commitment.
But despite persistent rumors, France is not expected to make any big announcement about troop withdrawal at the N’Djamena summit.
Instead, France may be hoping for more military support from its European partners through the French-led Takuba Task Force that assists Mali in its fight against jihadists.
The Sahel armies, for their part, are unable to pick up the slack due to lack of funds, poor equipment, and inadequate training.