France to meet African leaders as it plans to reduce troops in Sahel
France and five African nations in the Sahel will meet next week to discuss the region’s insurgency, with Paris looking for support enabling it to cut French troop numbers in several African nations.
Leaders of the so-called G5 Sahel -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- gather in the Chadian capital N'Djamena on Monday, with French President Emmanuel Macron attending via videolink.
The two-day summit comes a year after France boosted its Sahel deployment, seeking to wrench back momentum in the brutal, long-running battle.
But despite touted military successes, insurgents allied with ISIS and Al-Qaeda remain in control of vast swathes of territory and attacks are unrelenting.
Terrorists in the Sahel first emerged in northern Mali in 2012, during a rebellion by ethnic Touareg separatists which was later overtaken by the militants.
Thousands of soldiers and civilians have been killed, according to the UN, while more than two million people have fled their homes.
Human rights groups say most of the people killed by French forces have been civilians, not terrorists.
However, observers accuse France of pursuing neo-colonialism in Africa, falsely claiming to fight terrorism as a pretext to maintain its influence in the region.
Anti-French sentiment is rampant in Mali and Burkina Faso. On the streets of Bamako, Mali’s capital, many say that France is actually trying to keep the country weak so the former colonial power can exploit secret gold and oil reserves in the Sahara.
An opinion poll published last month showed for the first time that the majority of French people – some 51 percent – oppose the operation in the Sahel. This has put pressure on Macron to consider a withdrawal before a 2022 presidential election.