West Africa: Fight Against Jihad 'Back On Track' As Macron Meets Sahel Leaders in Mauritania

The G5 Sahel countries.

French President Emmanuel Macron and leaders from the G5 Sahel group of countries have met in Mauritania to discuss the ongoing fight against jihadists. Macron's first trip outside of Europe since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic is a sign of solidarity with the region, according to the Elysée Palace.

"Efforts continue, progress is significant, but still insufficient," said Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Ghazouani.

"This Nouakchott summit gives us the opportunity to exchange views on the evolution of the security situation in the region. In light of, not only the resurgence of violence in Libya and its negative impact on the entire sub-region, but also of the dangerous expansion of terrorists to new regions," the Mauritanian leader added, referring to the attack in Kafolo, Côte d'Ivoire last June.

Ghazouani said that debt for the poorest countries must be cancelled, especially since government's budgets had taken a hit with the fight against the coronavirus pandemic. This would help solve the root socio-economic problems that have contributed to the insurgency, according to the Mauritanian president.

Moussa Faki Mahamat, chairperson of the African Union Commission, and Louise Mushikiwabo, head of the Francophonie group, also took part in the Nouakchott meeting, as well as Spain's Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez.

Moving forward

Discussions focused on strategy, some six months after the last meeting in Pau, south-western France. Talks on 13 January had not been particularly positive given several months of difficulties on the ground.

In Pau, priorities had been defined in terms of the enemy, Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, (ISIS-GS), and targeting a particular region, the border area of Mali, Niger and Burkina.

Six months later, although the gains made are fragile, the state of things is seen completely differently, with a view that victory is possible in the Sahel.

Strengthened by an additional 500 troops, Operation Barkhane, has increased its operations and changed its way of working.

New strategy

To try and dislodge the jihadists, the French military operation will use less convoys containing heavy and slow vehicles, often the target of homemade improvised explosive devices. Instead, it aims to put more of a long-term, permanent presence in place on the ground.

The 2nd Foreign Parachute Regiment have been designated on the ground, with complete autonomy, out in the wild, for several weeks in coordination with regional armies, as had previously been decided in January.

After several months, the results are evident, according to the French military, several hundred jihadists have been neutralised, including the killing of Abdelmalek Droudel, the head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), in a targeted attack on 3 June.

Paris wants to see consolidation of military gains through the action of national armies, through redeployment of forces to unstable areas and targeted development projects.

Macron said he is "convinced that victory in the Sahel is possible", but forces from G5 Sahel countries must show "exemplary" action on the ground, amid accusations of human rights abuses during some military operations.

"We're getting back on track, thanks to the efforts that have been made over the past six months," Macron added.

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