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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron hosted a summit in the southwestern French city of Pau on Monday to discuss the French military presence in the Sahel, in north-central Africa. The summit was attended by the leaders of five African states — Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad — as well as the UN Secretary-General Antonio Gutteres and Charles Michel, president of the European Council.
The discussion was focussed on the fight against extremists and the confirmation by the African leaders that they want the 4,500 French army troops involved in fighting terrorists in Operation Barkhane to remain in the Sahel.
Macron needed their firm public support concerning the French military presence. Tensions between France and some of these leaders, especially those of Mali and Burkina Faso, prompted him to organize this summit.
Hundreds of people demonstrated in the Malian capital Bamako against the presence of French troops, carrying posters saying Down with France and Barkhane must leave.
According to French diplomats, Macron, who visited Mali last month, felt that the leaders of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso were not giving public support for the French presence.
Macron complained of a lack of any clear condemnation of anti-French feelings on the ground, saying he did not want to send soldiers to countries where their presence was not clearly wanted, especially as this presence had a high cost for France whether in soldiers killed or in military expenditure.
Before they started their talks the leaders attended a memorial service for the 13 French soldiers who died in Mali last month in a helicopter collision.
This summit was convened for the five leaders to express support clearly and publicly for the French military presence, which is the largest contribution to the fight against extremists belonging to Al-Qaeda and Daesh — thereby giving legitimacy to the French presence.
According to French diplomatic sources, France’s military efforts are failing to stop the progress of the Islamists in many areas, so the regional five countries need to be engaged in the support of the French military to give it legitimacy and to show that France has no colonial intentions in the African countries threatened by the Islamist groups.
French diplomatic sources also say France is not being sufficiently helped by other European countries which are as threatened by the Islamists as France, but they have only given logistics help and have no troops on the ground to help France.
Diplomats believe the Pentagon is considering withdrawing US logistic support from the French Barkhane operation in the Sahel. However, they stress that France cannot succeed on its own: It needs African and broader international support.
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