France to host talks of Sahel force deployment
French President Emmanuel Macron will host talks in Paris on December 13 on "speeding up deployment" of a five-nation anti-terrorism force in the Sahel, aides said on Thursday.
Macron "will invite fellow leaders and key partners in the joint force, from the EU, UN, AU (African Union)" a source said, adding that the deployment of the so-called G5 Sahel force "is not moving ahead fast enough."
The French leader believes that "the terrorists have scored a number of significant military victories, notably in Niger. It is urgent to reverse this trend," the source said.
"It will be an acceleration of the timetable for support for the force... We want to make this force more powerful in terms of military manpower and means," he added. France is also planning to invite Saudi Arabia, he said.
The vast Sahel region, which stretches from Senegal to Sudan, has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, Islamists overran northern Mali in 2012 and Boko Haram rose up in northern Nigeria.
The French-backed G5 Sahel force is anti-jihadist military initiative staffed by pooled resources from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
The fledgling force launched its first joint patrol on November 3, but faces mountainous challenges.
The members of the G5 are among the poorest nations in the world and their military are badly under-equipped.
Estimates for the first year of operations are put at $490m, although French officials say the budget can be brought down to around 240m euros.
At present, it has funding pledges from 108 million euros, comprising 50 million from the European Union, 50 million from the five countries themselves and eight million from France, plus $60 million promised by the United States.