French summit aims to boost counterterror fight in West Africa

PAU, FRANCE (AP) — French and West African heads of states vowed to boost their military efforts under a joint command in Africa’s Sahel region, which has seen a surge of deadly violence. They also urged the United States (US) to maintain its key support in the fight against extremism.

Leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania joined French President Emmanuel Macron in discussing security issues at the summit in the southern French city of Pau.

In a joint declaration, they reaffirmed their “determination to fight together against the terrorist groups”.

African leaders said they want France’s military presence on their ground and called for more international support.

They also expressed their gratitude toward the “crucial help” of the US amid fears it may reduce its troops across the African continent. Macron said such a US move would be “bad news”.

French President Emmanuel Macron, flanked by Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, Mauritania’s President Mohamed Ould Cheikh El Ghazouani, and Chad’s President Idriss Deby attend a press conference in Pau, southwestern France, PHOTO: AP

“I hope I can convince US President Trump that the fight against terrorism… is also at stake in this region,” he added.

The White House National Security Council tweeted that “the United States strongly supports African, French, and international efforts in the Sahel to strengthen security and combat terrorism”.

France and the five Sahel countries agreed to concentrate military efforts “immediately” along the porous border separating Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso with a unified military command. Extremist fighters move about the area with little challenge.

Macron said the priority is to combat the Islamic State (IS) of the Greater Sahara.

“To reach this goal, we are changing the method by implementing a military coalition with a joint command” of French and African forces, he added.

Macron said the new military structure will improve intelligence sharing and allow troops to be more responsive on the ground.