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France to send 600 more troops to Africa’s Sahel as frustration on the ground grows & allies cut back participation

France to send 600 more troops to Africa’s Sahel as frustration on the ground grows & allies cut back participation
Paris will deploy an additional 600 soldiers to fight jihadists in Africa while also facing challenges in getting allies on board with its combat mission in the Sahel region.

With these additional troops, the number of French soldiers stationed in the region south of the Sahara Desert will increase to 5,100 by the end of February, Defense Minister Florence Parly said in a statement on Sunday. The move is set to strengthen the forces involved in the Paris-led Operation Barkhane, targeted against diverse jihadist groups, like the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISIS-GS), which is linked to Islamic State (IS, formerly ISIS/ISIL) in Iraq and Syria.

"The fight against terrorism is our priority. In the Sahel, France is on the front line," Parly said.

Most of the reinforcements will be deployed to secure the cross-border zone between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Another part of the newly deployed contingent will work with the armies of the G5 Sahel states, a group comprising five neighbors, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Chad. Paris also intends to extend the EU training mission in the region.

The military presence in the Sahel has come at a cost, however. In November, 13 French soldiers died in a helicopter collision while pursuing militants in Mali. The tragedy sparked renewed attention on the mission in Africa and prompted President Emmanuel Macron to promise sending 220 more soldiers to the region in January. 

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Operation Barkhane doesn’t seem to be facing strong opposition in France. Even the head of the right-wing National Rally, Marine Le Pen, who is usually very critical of Macron’s policies, supported the troop increase in the Sahel.There are, however, some critics calling for the French soldiers to be brought back home. Jean-Luc Melenchon, the leader of the left-wing La France Insoumise party, has argued that the operation does not have a “clear political objective” and called for the withdrawal of troops.

There have also been growing protests in the countries like Mali and Niger demanding for the French troops to leave. Burning the French national flags and carrying placards that read ‘Get out, France,’ the demonstrators argued that Paris cannot protect the people on the ground and only adds to violence in the African states.

Paris has been struggling to keep its allies on board in the Sahel mission. Last week, Parly warned US Defense Secretary Mark Esper that the planned cuts to US military operations in Africa will "severely limit" the effectiveness of the fight against militants. In December, German media revealed that Berlin had turned down France's call to create a joint task force in Mali.

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