France says it plans to expand its military presence in Africa with the deployment of at least 3 000 troops to military bases in Niger, Mali and Chad as well as a logistics and supply base in Ivory Coast.
France already has troops on stabilisation missions in Ivory Coast, Mali and the Central Africa Republic (CAR).
Addressing a press conference after meeting US Defence Secretary Chuck Hagel in Washington last week, French defence minister Yves Le Drian said France hopes that the new deployment will help France better react to security challenges in the Sahel region.
“France has decided to reorganize its posture in Africa in order to have, all over the zone, a larger reactivity, a larger specialization, so that with the support of the neighbouring states, we can have prevention actions or intervention in a regional approach so that altogether we can make sure that the security of the entire zone is lasting,” Le Drian said.
Once implemented, the deployment will expand the military presence of France, which has soldiers in Djibouti (1 900), Mali (2 000), Central Africa Republic (1 600), Gabon (900), Chad (950), Ivory Coast (450), Senegal (350), Guinea (150) and smaller representations attached to United Nations peacekeeping and stabilisation missions in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Western Sahara and Liberia.
The troop surge follows the announcement in November last year by French Interior Minister Manuel Valls that France will appoint a regional intelligence coordinator in the Senegalese capital Dakar. Valls told reporters in Dakar that the official will “strengthen teams already on the ground to increase efficiency, notably in the field of intelligence.”
The intelligence chief will be specifically charged with gathering intelligence on armed Islamist groups in neighbouring Mali and the entire Sahel region. The French plan comes as Germany said it will increase the number of troops deployed to Mali from 180 to 250. So far 99 out of a mandated 180 German troops are on the ground in Mali taking part in the European Union funded training programme for Malian troops.
Newly appointed defence minister Ursula von der Leyen said the bolstering of the training mission in Mali will also include the deployment of a medical services aircraft to back up the French mission in Central Africa Republic (CAR). She said Germany will boost its international military engagements within the framework of existing military alliances, adding that the country will intervene in Africa shortly to stop military crises.
She said Germany “cannot look the other way when murder and rape are a daily occurrence…In Central Africa, a bloody war is unfolding between Christians and Muslims. We cannot allow this conflict to set the entire region ablaze,” she added.
The US, the EU and West African countries are increasingly concerned about the spread of Islamist insurgencies which have spilled over from the Maghreb to the western rim of the Sahel.
The UN Security Council has also called on partner nations to deploy more resources in preventive troop deployments and troop training for Mali amid reports that the Islamist militia groups which were pushed out of the country’s north by French troops are re-grouping.
France has intervened in Africa 19 times between 1962 and 1995, according to AFP.