France’s Strategy Before Mali Withdrawal

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French officials are heading to Niger to redefine the country’s strategy to fight armed groups in the Sahel as its troops complete a withdrawal from Mali and concerns mount over the growing threat to coastal West African states.

Coups in Mali, Chad, and Burkina Faso against pro-Parisian leaders have weakened France’s alliances in its former colonies. This has also emboldened armed groups who control large swathes of desert and scrubland and opened the door to greater Russian influence.

Concerns are growing that the exit of 2,400 French troops from Mali – the birthplace of violence in the Sahel region and stronghold of al-Qaeda and ISIL (ISIS) affiliates – will aggravate violence, destabilize neighbors and spur migration.

With the withdrawal expected to be completed around mid-year, France’s new foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, and Defence Minister Sebastien Lecornu arrive in Niger on Friday to seal a regional redeployment.

Niger will now become the hub for French troops with some 1,000 soldiers based in the capital Niamey with fighter jets, drones, and helicopters.

Some 300-400 would be dispatched for special operations with Nigerien troops in the border regions with Burkina and Mali, French officials told reporters in a briefing.

Another 700-1,000 would be based in Chad with an undisclosed number of special forces operating elsewhere in the region. French troops will no longer carry out missions or pursue fighters into Mali once the exit is complete, the officials said.

BY REUTERS

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