France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron

France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron
Soldiers stand guard at sunset as France's President and Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou (unseen) take part in a military ceremony at the Martyr Quarter on December 22, 2019, in Niamey, to pay homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers massacred in an attack on December 10 at the Inates military camp in the Sahel country's western Tillaberi region. (AFP)
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Updated 23 December 2019

France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron

France, Sahel allies at ‘turning point’ in war on militants: Macron
  • “The coming weeks will be absolutely decisive..." Macron said

NIAMEY: France and five allied Sahel countries have reached a “turning point” in their fight against militants, President Emmanuel Macron said Sunday, wrapping up a weekend visit to the troubled region.
“The coming weeks will be absolutely decisive in the fight we are waging against terrorism,” Macron said in the Niger capital Niamey, where he paid homage to 71 Nigerien soldiers killed in an militant attack earlier this month.
“We are at a turning point in this war,” he said.
France and the five Sahel countries hosting French troops had to “define the military, political and development goals of the next six, 12 and 18 months much more clearly” at a summit in southwestern France next month, he added.
Macron began his visit to the region in Ivory Coast on Friday, celebrating Christmas with French soldiers stationed there.
The role of former colonial power France in the region has come under the spotlight following a renewed militant insurgency that has raised questions about the effectiveness of French and UN troops there.
“We need the political conditions to accompany the military work we do,” he told the 4,500-strong French contingent in Ivory Coast.
In Niamey, he said: “I see opposition movements, groups, who denounce the French presence as a neo-colonial, imperialist.”
Complaining of a lack of “clear political condemnation of anti-French feelings,” Macron said he was loath to send soldiers to countries where their presence was not “clearly wanted.”
The leaders of the anti-jihadist G5 Sahel alliance grouping Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad are to meet in Pau, France, on January 13.
There, they would clarify the “political and strategic framework” of their operations, said Macron.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said the summit would “launch an appeal for international solidarity so that the Sahel and France are not alone in this fight.”
Mali’s President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita on Saturday told French television the G5 leaders would deliver a message demanding a “respectable and respectful” relationship with France.
On Saturday, in a speech to the French community in Ivory Coast, Macron said 33 “terrorists” had been “neutralized” in neighboring Mali. A source close to the presidency confirmed that this meant they had been killed.
French soldiers also released two Malian gendarmes being held by militants, Macron said.
The operation involved teams of commandos and attack helicopters in the flashpoint city of Mopti in central Mali.
“This considerable success shows the commitment of our forces, the support that we bring to Mali, to the region and to our own security,” Macron said.
The French armed forces ministry in a statement said the Mopti military operation targeted a camp where militants had gathered in a densely wooded area and fighting continued into the morning.
French forces captured a stash of heavy weaponry, four vehicles, including one mounted with an anti-aircraft canon, and motorbikes.
But the successful Mali operation came just weeks after 13 French soldiers were killed in a helicopter crash as they hunted militants in the country’s north.
Last month’s crash was the biggest single-day loss for the French military in nearly four decades.
“We have had losses, we also have victories this morning thanks to the commitment of our soldiers and Operation Barkhane,” he said, referring to France’s military operation against  militants in the Sahel.
Despite a French troop presence and a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, the conflict that erupted in 2012 has engulfed the center of the country and spread to neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger.


World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

Updated 42 min 2 sec ago

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row

World Bank threatens to halt $200m Afghan aid over banking data row
  • Letter sent to Afghan president comes amid corruption claims linked to new government controls on public-private partnerships

KABUL: The World Bank has threatened to close the taps on $200 million worth of aid to Afghanistan if Kabul fails to share banking sector data.
Afghanistan’s Ministry of Finance on Wednesday said that the World Bank had warned the country’s President Ashraf Ghani that it would halt its assistance if the information was not forthcoming.
In a letter dated Nov. 23, Henry G. Kerali, the World Bank’s country director for Afghanistan, mentioned issues that “remain to be resolved” and “may impact” the bank’s capacity to disburse the full amount of $200 million.
The issues included the World Bank’s inability to obtain banking data from Da Afghanistan Bank (DAB), the country’s central bank.
“The letter has actually been addressed to the president, and copies of it have been sent to relevant offices. The issue will be resolved in the coming week,” finance ministry spokesman, Shamroz Khan Masjidi, told Arab News.
“In the past, we would have shared a number of non-sensitive banking data with the World Bank. Now, a misunderstanding has appeared with the central bank which has not shared it with it (the World Bank) … the issue will be resolved.” The World Bank’s Kabul office declined to comment on whether the letter, a copy of which has been seen by Arab News, was a warning to Ghani. In an equivocal statement issued on Wednesday, the lender said: “No letter from the World Bank to the government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan has been released to the public.” Ghani’s spokesman declined comment.
The World Bank’s purported threat comes amid complaints over increasing corruption after the presidential palace in recent months took control of public-private partnerships (PPP) from the Ministry of Finance through amendments to the country’s PPP law.
Reliant on international assistance, Afghanistan is considered one of the most corrupt countries.
Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, the US government’s leading oversight authority on Afghanistan reconstruction, in a letter on Nov. 11 said that the Afghan government “often makes paper reforms, such as drafting regulations or holding meetings, rather than concrete actions that would reduce corruption, such as arresting powerful actors.” Even Ghani’s brother, Hashmat Ghani, spoke against the PPP law move. “Taking away PPP office and authority from the finance ministry has been a mistake. It should be reversed immediately,” he said in a tweet on Thursday.
Torek Farhadi, a former Afghan and International Monetary Fund adviser, said the World Bank’s letter was “not a good signal” for Afghanistan.
“The reason for which it is interrupting the payment is that the president wants to move a number of important state-owned enterprises and the management of PPP to the palace where there is no oversight of the parliament at the palace as opposed to the ministry (Finance Ministry),” he told Arab News.
“So, this is how corruption creeps in, and the international community is worried about what is going on and the World Bank expresses it in a diplomatic language in this letter.” Sediq Ahmad Usmani, a lawmaker from the parliamentary financial affairs committee, said: “The executive power, particularly, the presidency, has created another government of its special circle which deals with appointments and budget’s expenses. All the power lies with the president and without his knowledge they cannot do anything.” “This has been our concern and we have shared it with the donors and have asked them to prevent such wayward acts,” he added.
Ghani’s chief spokesman, Sediq Seddiqi, denied the existence of any “circle” under the president. “These MPs, I am sure they know the whole process and the authority of government officials and the president on budget spending. Budget issues must not be politicized.
“The government sends details of the budget to the parliament in a very transparent way and they have the legal right to oversee the spending. It is an open budget system, there is no circle.”