U.S. speaks on its military presence in Africa

U.S. speaks on its military presence in Africa

The security crisis in the region started in 2012 when an alliance of separatist and Islamist militants took over northern Mali, triggering a French military intervention to oust them. But first, French President Emmanuel Macron asks African heads of state to answer a key question: "Do you want us there?" Some in Mali, which has struggled for close to a decade with extremism, have protested the French presence.

France has some 4,500 troops based in Mali, Niger and Chad to back up local forces against militant fighters, and Macron wants political commitments from the region's leaders.

Visiting the region last month, he complained of a lack of "clear political condemnation of anti-French feelings" on the ground.

But "that's not the favorite scenario", he said.

The meeting with leaders of the G5 Sahel was initially slated for mid-December but was postponed after 71 Niger troops were killed in an attack.

Ahmed Mohamed led the army for more than two years, a period marked by a sharp increase in attacks by militants related to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda, culminating in a raid on a remote army base on Thursday that killed at least 89 soldiers.

Macron called the summit with West African leaders following a helicopter collision during a combat operation in November that killed 13 French soldiers fighting Islamic extremists in Mali near the Niger border.

But Macron and his government have been criticized at home for allowing French troops to get bogged down and they face growing hostility in West Africa for failing to restore stability.

Since 2013, when France intervened Mali, the security situation deteriorated. Another French military operation killed 33 extremists in central Mali.

Last year, only $300 million (269 million euros) of $400 million pledged by the worldwide community in cash and material support to the Sahel was delivered, according to the French presidency.

Another 2,000 soldiers are conducting training missions in some 40 African countries and taking part in cooperative operations, in particular with France's Operation Barkhane in Mali, to which they provide mainly logistical assistance.

Niger authorities said at least 63 militants were eliminated during the attack.

In Burkina Faso, deaths rose from about 80 in 2016 to more than 1,800 in 2019. In a statement early in January, UN chief Antonio Guterres warned that "terrorist groups are gaining ground".

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