- Macron’s first non-European trip as President of France has been to Mali.
- Visiting French troops fighting jihadists in West Africa, Macron has vowed that France will be unyielding.
- Mali’s level of insecurity has become “unprecedented” because of the jihadist attacks regardless of the French efforts so far.
- Fighting has also spilt into neighboring West African countries.
France’s new President Emmanuel Macron has promised that his country will be unwavering in its crackdown on Islamist militants in West Africa as he paid a visit to French troops in Mali.
Macron, who took office as France’s President on Sunday, went to Mali on his second foreign trip, after first visiting Germany for talks with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin, a traditional first trip for every new French leader in the past few decades.
Macron’s visit in Mali, an embattled West African nation connected with France through its colonial past, among other things, is first trip abroad outside of Europe.
Over 4,000 French, UN, and Malian troops are stationed in five nations in the Sahel in West Africa, Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, in France’s Operation Barkhane designed to crack down on jihadists. Of those, 3,500 are French troops.
French army units were deployed in northern Mali by Macron’s predecessor and former mentor, President Francois Hollande, back in 2013. At least 19 French soldiers have died in the Sahel since then.
France’s new President, Emmanuel Macron, arrived on Friday in Gao in Northern Mali to visit the French troops fighting Islamist militants, and to hold meet with Mali’s President, Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, France24 reported.
Visiting the French forces there was one of the first things Macron had promised to do during his presidential campaign if he was elected President.
He was joined by members of his newly appointed cabinet, including Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Armed Services Minister Sylvie Goulard, as well as the head of the French development agency (AFD), Remy Rioux.
Speaking alongside Malian President Keita, Macron promised that France would be “uncompromising” in its fight against militant Islamists in Mali and the Sahel.
He said he would also seek to strengthen cooperation with European nations, particularly Germany, which is the biggest contributor to the UN force in Mali, also known as MINUSMA.
Most of Northern Mali was occupied in early 2012 by Tuareg separatists and Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda such as Ansar Dine.
Even though the French forces repulsed them the following year, the jihadists continue to stage counterattacks in Northern and Central Mali.
Back in 2015, the Malian government signed a peace agreement with the Tuareg rebels in order to isolate the jihadist groups.
Regardless of the French and UN forces’ efforts, the International Federation on Human Rights (FIDH) has described Mali’s level of insecurity as “unprecedented”.
Even though the French operation has succeeded in liberating Timbuktu and Gao in Northern Mali, FIDH has said in a report that few signs of progress can be found two years after the peace accord.
The jihadists have recently taken the fighting to Central Mali, with rebel activity spilling into Burkina Faso.
In March, the three main jihadist groups in the region merged under the command of Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag-Ghaly, calling the new group Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin.
“This development … demonstrated that these groups persist, recompose themselves and manage to set up means of coordination, despite the fight against terrorism that has been going on for several years,” the FIDH report said.
More than 332 people were killed in 385 attacks in 2016, including 207 civilians in the north and center of Mali, the NGO said.