French PM urges joint stand against jihadists in Sahel

AFP , Sunday 24 Feb 2019

Edouard Philippe
French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe (Photo: Reuters)

French Prime Minister Edouard Philippe on Sunday urged partners to stand with Paris in driving back jihadi violence in the Sahel.

France, with troops on the ground in the region, is backing a 5,000-man joint mission among the five-nation G5 Sahel force on the front line: Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad.

"We require everyone's commitment to progress towards durable stabilisation. Nobody can boast of being able to do that without the backing of others," Philippe said, citing a Malian proverb at his troops' headquarters in Gao.

He was speaking days after the African Union's peace and security chief Smail Chergui urged member states to tackle the root causes of extremism in the Sahel region.

Chergui voiced disappointment at the difficulties in financing and equipping the force at a time when the future of the UN's MINUSMA mission in Mali is uncertain.

Highlighting Mali's fragile security, two Malian troops and a civilian were wounded on Sunday when suicide bombers in vehicles attacked a military base near Bamako where European military trainers are based, local authorities said.

Three assailants were killed in the attack on Koulikoro Training Centre some 60 kilometres (37 miles) from the capital, where the EUTM European training mission and Mali's officer training school is based, Malian military sources said.

No Western trainers were wounded.

The attackers, who were travelling in two cars, first opened fire at a checkpoint outside the city before detonating themselves at the entrance of the military training centre, the Koulikoro regional governor said in a statement.

- 'As long as necessary' -
The Islamist revolt in the Sahel took off after chaos engulfed Libya in 2011. Jihadist attacks erupted in northern Mali as Boko Haram emerged in northern Nigeria.

Large areas of Mali remain out of control, and the jihadists have gained ground in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger, while Chad is battling unrest on its borders.

France sent troops into Mali in 2013 to help drive back Islamist insurgents who took control of the north of the country. Since then its French-led Operation Barkhane anti-insurgency campaign has kept troops in the region.

"It is the action of all, with Barkhane, alongside Malian forces, which will drive back jihadism," said Philippe, who arrived in Mali late Friday for a two-day visit.

In an address to French, Malian, British and Estonian forces on Sunday, the French premier saluted their "remarkable and decisive" results, which included the recent killing of Djamel Okacha, a top jihadist leader accused of kidnapping Westerners in the Sahel.

"Every day our enemies are suffering important losses, reducing their capacity to cause trouble," said Philippe, while conceding the threat has not disappeared.

On Saturday he said the 2,700 French forces in the region since 2014 "will remain as long as is necessary".

While in Gao, Philippe, accompanied by French Defence Minister Florence Parly, visited a monument to 24 French soldiers who have died in Mali to date.

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