French defence minister going to Washington


The French defence minister will travel to Washington soon to discuss US military support to French forces in the Sahel, amid concern of a US exit from the area.

France, the former colonial power, has 4 500 troops in Mali and the wider Sahel where security is progressively worsening. The US provides intelligence, logistical and drone support for French forces, but there are mixed signals from Washington it could withdraw.

“We count on the support of the US for the success of this consolidated effort,” Florence Parly told lawmakers.

“I will be in the American capital in the coming days to consolidate the existing deployment.”

Militants linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State strengthened their foothold in the north-central region of Africa, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.

France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who seized northern Mali a year earlier.

The UN Security Council then deployed a peacekeeping mission – known as MINUSMA – in Mali in 2013. The UN Security Council, due to renew the mission’s mandate in June, was briefed on Mali this week.

The US suggested the council consider changing the focus of the UN mission to protecting civilians instead of supporting implementation of a failed peace deal. Deputy US Ambassador to the UN, Cherith Norman Chalet, said “a new approach that disrupts the status quo” was needed by June.

“Additionally, the mission can reduce size, allowing member states to apply resources to more effective efforts in the region,” Norman Chalet told the 15-member council.

“We must recognise peacekeeping missions are not the answer to growing terrorist threats in Mali. A clear-eyed assessment of MINUSMA is needed to determine how the mission most effectively complements other security activities in the region,” she said.

The UN peacekeeping mission currently has 13,000 troops and police on the ground.