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Questions mount over Macron's regional plan

Although Paris wants to scale back its commitment to the Sahel operation, it's unclear which countries fill the gap

France's President Emmanuel Macron is likely to cut more troops from the region at next week's G5 Sahel summit in Chad on Monday and Tuesday (15 and 16 February). Officials have already said they will withdraw the extra 'surge' force of 600 soldiers, taking numbers down to 4,500 again. But they are also planning deeper cuts.

President Macron hopes that the new European Takuba Task Force will do more (AC Vol 62 No 2, Outstaying welcomes). Josep Borrell, the European Union's High Representative on foreign affairs, will attend the Chad summit, although there are no signs that he will come with more cash or troops from member states.

Macron is under electoral pressure at home to reduce France's troop commitment where his claims of successes are not widely shared. Some policy experts think the Sahel strategy is foundering amid more communal killings and jihadist militancy.

Last month, Macron met with Mali's interim leader Bah N'Daw at the Elysée palace. The growing unpopularity of France's military presence in Mali was thought to have been discussed.

N'Daw's caretaker government is meant to rule for 18 months before elections but the military has maintained its political influence since it deposed President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta in August (AC Vol 61 No 17, No road back for Keïta).

French senators say it is not enough to be told the government is withdrawing 600 soldiers from Opération Barkhane. 'Above all, we want to understand the government's strategy for the coming period,' said Christian Chambon, head of the Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Armed Forces Committee in Paris.

There are also questions about how international development and support missions can be restarted. The UN's mission in Mali has been stalled by the Covid-19 pandemic while EU support missions for Malian and Nigérien security forces have also been put on hold.



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