In the face of increasing jihadist attacks, French President Emmanuel Macron invited the leaders of the five states of the African Sahel group (G5) to a meeting on Monday January, 13th, in the city of Pau (southwestern France) with the aim of strengthening the legitimacy of the presence of French forces in these countries and urging European allies to act.
According to AFP, the leaders of Sahel G5 (Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania) attended the summit, as well as the Secretary-General of the United Nations, Antonio Guterres, the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki, and the President of the European Council, Charles Michel.
This meeting comes after the announcement of the largest losses faced by the Niger army so far, in the wake of an extremist attack on Thursday, January 9th targeting a military camp, Chinegodar, near the border with Mali. 89 soldiers were killed in the attack, according to the death toll announced on January 12th.
France, the former colonial power, deploys 4,500 soldiers in Mali and the wider Sahel region but the security situation is gradually getting worse, according to Reuters.
Terrorists linked to al-Qaeda and Isis have strengthened their deployment in the Sahel, making large swaths of territory ungovernable in addition to ethnic violence, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso.
The five leaders were suddenly invited to Pau in early December by Macron, who was unhappy with the public criticism in Sahel countries about the presence of about 4,500 soldiers from Barkhane the French force in the region, and statements by some of their ministers were considered vague, AFP reported. "I can't have French troops on the ground in the Sahel when there is ambiguity (by local authorities) towards anti-French movements and sometimes comments made by politicians and ministers," Macron said.
There is a growing sense of hostility towards France, especially in Mali, where about a thousand people demonstrated in the capital, Bamako on January 8th, demanding the departure of French and all foreign forces.
According to AFP, Paris wants the Pau summit on January 13th to issue a joint declaration by the five Sahel leaders, confirming that France is working in their countries, at their request, to "legitimise again" its presence in the region. French Armed Forces Minister, Florence Parly said on January 11th that "In the last few weeks a certain narrative has developed that France's presence is no longer wanted ... and for that we need a clarification."
Pau is home to seven of the 13 soldiers killed in a helicopter crash in Mali in December, the largest single-day military loss in France in nearly four decades.