Since a bloody terrorist attack on an army camp in western Niger, a clash has risen over the counter-terrorism strategies adopted by France and its relations with countries of the Sahel.
About 100 Islamic militants ambushed an army camp in western Niger and killed at least 71 soldiers, in the deadliest attack on the West African country’s forces in years.
The bloodshed has not stopped in the region that since 2012 has become an arena for the activity of many jihadist groups linked to al-Qaeda and Daesh.
The attack came just days ahead of a summit in France between President Emmanuel Macron and leaders of five West African leaders to discuss the deteriorating security in the region.
The United Nations envoy for West Africa and the Sahel described “a devastating surge in terrorist attacks against civilian and military targets” in the region.
The envoy, Mohamed Ibn Chambas, told the United Nations Security Council that terrorist attacks have increased fivefold in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger since 2016. More than 4,000 deaths were reported in 2019 compared with an estimated 770 deaths in 2016, he said.
That meeting has now been postponed to early 2020, according to a Reuters report. The leaders from France’s former colonies of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger are expected to discuss the future role of the French military in the face of mounting jihadist attacks.
Niger is a member of the G5 Sahel force of troops from Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, and Chad set up in 2014 to tackle insecurity.
The US and France have deployed soldiers to Niger to assist local troops with intelligence gathering and operations as it battles Boko Haram and al Qaeda militants in the region.
Moreover, The Niger government has declared three days of national mourning after 89 soldiers were killed in an attack on a military base, a government spokesman said on Sunday.
The attack happened on Thursday when heavily armed militants attacked an army outpost in Chinagodrar in the country’s west, near the border of Mali.
In November, 13 French soldiers were killed in a crash involving two helicopters during an operation against jihadists fighters in Mali.
More than 50 soldiers died in a militant attack on a military camp in the northeast of Mali in November.
Officials said they have launched an investigation into the incident and urged residents to be resolute in their support as the country continues to wage war against terrorism.
During a visit to the large French base in the northern Mali city of Gao on a trip that also included meetings in Chad and Burkina Faso, Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly acknowledged the security situation was “clearly difficult” but said France was nearing a breakthrough in talks.
“By 2020, special forces from European countries will be deployed in Mali alongside French special forces to pass on exceptional know-how” to Mali’s army, Parly said.
She added that around a dozen countries had been approached to join the unit – to be named “Takuba,” which means “sabre” in the Tuareg language.
“Over the past few weeks, a sort of narrative has developed which may suggest that the presence of France is no longer as desired as it used to be, and this is what we need to clarify,” Parly said. “France wishes to be able to continue the fight against terrorism in the Sahel but on the condition of course that this is desired and requested by the countries concerned.”
France, whose 4,500-strong Operation Barkhane force has been in the region since 2014, has been trying to convince European partners to boost military assistance to the Sahel. The French plans for a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force for the Sahel were first reported in early October.