France and Germany tighten defence co-operation in the Sahel


Germany is supporting France’s push to make a new multinational military force to tackle Islamist militants in Africa’s Sahel region operational and urged other powers to contribute funds at a donor conference.

On a joint visit to Niger’s capital, Niamey, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her French counterpart, Florence Parly, said the Sahel force was West Africa’s best hope for defeating the militants.

Some observers see the G5 Sahel force — comprised of troops from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad — as forming the basis of an eventual exit strategy for around 4,000 French troops deployed in the volatile region.

France has said it has no plans to withdraw them — a stance reiterated by Parly in Niamey.
“We need to find other European partners. Italy, Spain and others have expressed an interest,” the German minister said before leaving Niamey, where she announced the supply of military equipment to Niger.

Parly and Von der Leyen’s trips are the latest evidence of imprving defence and security co-operation between Berlin and Paris since Emmanuel Macron became French president in May.

In mid-July Macron and Chancellor Angela Merkel unveiled plans to develop a European fighter jet, burying past defence industry rivalries in a move designed to give fresh impetus to Franco-German relations.

Macron wants the roughly 5,000-strong Sahel force to be fully operational by autumn.

Paris considers the Sahel a breeding ground for militants and traffickers who pose a threat to Europe. Yet the force faces obstacles, including financing, arms and training.

The European Union has pledged about 50 million euros ($59.20 million) and France said it would contribute about eight million euros by the end of the year. The force will cost between 400 and 500 million euros per year.

The ministers announced plans for a September donor conference in Berlin. French diplomats hope to bring Washington on board.
“We have to offer them a business model, which allows them to contribute money bilaterally, behind the scenes,” one French diplomat said. “They want to cut funding for international organisations but have more flexibility when it comes to bilateral aid.”

Parly met the presidents of Chad and Niger. She will travel to a French military base in Gao, Mali before heading to Bamako where she will meet up with Von der Leyen.