PARIS (AP) — French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday announced the future reduction of France’s military presence fighting Islamic extremism in Africa’s Sahel region.
In a news conference, Macron spoke about the “profound transformation” of France’s military operation in Mali and neighboring countries — without giving a timeframe.
France’s Operation Barkhane will formally end, he said, and will be replaced by another mission focused on fighting Islamic extremists that relies more on regional partners.
Details will be unveiled in coming weeks, he said, including on the number of troops France is keeping in the region. France now has more than 5,000 troops in the Sahel.
“The final goal is to reduce our multiple military deployments” in the region, he said.
“I’m saying it again: France is in Africa only at the request of Africans … to fight against terrorism,” Macron added. “But the shape of our presence, an operation abroad involving 5,000 troops, is not adapted any more to the reality of the combats.”
He said France will focus in the future on deploying special forces in cooperation with other European countries.
French troops have been present in Mali since 2013 when they intervened to force Islamic extremist rebels from power in towns across the country’s north. Operation Serval was later replaced by Barkhane and was expanded to include Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania in an effort to help stabilize the broader Sahel region.
Islamic militants, though, have continued to launch devastating attacks against the militaries fighting them as well as increasingly against civilians. About a week ago, extremists in Burkina Faso launched the deadliest attack in years, leaving at least 132 people dead.
Hundreds also have died since January in a series of massacres targeting villages on the border of Niger and Mali.
While governments in the Sahel have embraced France’s military help, some critics have likened their presence to a vestige of French colonial rule.