France and West African states agreed on Monday to unite their forces under a joint command structure to fight Islamist militants in the Sahel region and France will send an extra 220 soldiers to bolster its military presence there, Trend reports citing Reuters.
West African leaders assured French President Emmanuel Macron that they wanted France to continue its military involvement in the region when they met with him in the southwestern town of Pau.
“We have no choice. We need results,” Macron said, announcing the reinforcements after the summit with the leaders of Niger, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad.
France, the former colonial power, has about 4,500 troops already operating in the region, an arid expanse just below the Sahara desert. But security has been progressively worsening.
Militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have strengthened their foothold, making swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.
In a joint statement, the six leaders said they would focus their efforts against Islamic State in the Greater Sahara and they urged the United States to continue its logistical support for their forces.
“This new framework will take the form and name of a “Coalition for the Sahel”, bringing together the countries of the G5 Sahel, France - through Operation Barkhane,” the statement said.
Military assistance will also be placed under this format, including a future force of European special forces, it said.
The focus of operations would be the border areas linking Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
French troops were hailed as heroes in 2013 when their intervention helped prevent an Islamist militant push to the Malian capital Bamako.
But Macron and his government have been criticized at home for allowing French troops to get bogged down and they face
growing hostility in West Africa for failing to restore stability.
Macron said in December he wanted the West African leaders to clarify whether they want and need “our presence”.
They will meet again in June in the Mauritanian capital Nouakchott to assess the impact of the new command structure.