Macron to reduce French military troops in Africa's Sahel

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French Barkhane force soldiers who wrapped up a four-month tour of duty in the Sahel board a US Air Force C130 transport plane, leave their base in Gao, Mali Wednesday June 9, 2021. France has suspended joint military operations with Malian forces until the junta led by Col. Assimi Goita, who retook control of Mali's transitional government May 24, complies with international demands to restore civilian rule. (AP Photo/Jerome Delay)

PARIS – 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 at the end of June, 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, as part of the so-called Takuba task force that is meant to play an increasing role in the fight against extremists.

A French top official said it will take several months to implement the changes. Paris will first hold talks with its European and African partners, he said.