French president and African leaders to step up anti-terror efforts in Sahel region

French President Emmanuel Macron welcomes Chad’s President Idriss Deby during a summit on the situation in the Sahel region in the southern French city of Pau. (AFP)
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Updated 14 January 2020

French president and African leaders to step up anti-terror efforts in Sahel region

  • Emmanuel Macron says he will also try to persuade President Donald Trump to maintain US troop presence
  • Confirmation sought from African leaders that they want the 4,500 French army troops involved in fighting terrorists in Operation Barkhane to remain in the Sahel

PARIS: French President Emmanuel Macron and the leaders of five countries in West Africa have pledged to step up the fight against the growing insurgency in the Sahel region. As part of their efforts, military coordination will be improved by the establishment of an integrated command structure.

Macron also announced that an additional 220 French troops will join the 4,500 already deployed to Operation Barkhane, which targets militants in the region.

In a joint press conference after his summit with the leaders of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania — the G5 Sahel nations — the French premier said they “reconfirmed their commitment and involvement with the French and European presence in the Sahel.”

He added: “The priority is Islamic State in the Grand Sahara. ... It is our priority because it is the most dangerous” militant faction. “We have no choice; we need results.”

To help achieve those results, he said, “we are changing our methods by implementing a joint command between ourselves and the G5 Sahel, combining our military forces and our intelligence services with much stronger engagement.”

Macron also thanked other European nations that have pledged to send troops to join a new French-led Takuba Task Force, which will hunt insurgents in the mostly lawless border area linking Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. No details were given of which countries will participate, but the goal is to restore and consolidate the power of the legitimate political leaders in the region.

“The political goal is complementary to the military one because our enemy wants to break sovereignty,” said Macron.

The French president and the African leaders also praised Washington for its “crucial support,” after a top US general confirmed that the Pentagon was considering a drastic troop reduction in Africa. Macron added that he will try to persuade his American counterpart, Donald Trump, to reconsider any withdrawal of US troops. US intelligence and logistical support, including air support and surveillance from drones, is considered vital to the operations.

“If our American friends decide to pull out of Africa this would be bad news for us,” said Macron. “I hope to be able to convince President Trump that the fight against terrorism that he is committed to is at stake in this region. You cannot separate Libya from the Sahel or Lake Chad region. If we were to lose in any of these three places, terrorism would proliferate.” This, he added, would jeopardize the security of many states.

Macron called the summit, held in the town of Pau in southwest France, after 89 soldiers were killed on Jan. 9 in an attack by insurgents on an army base in the western town of Chinagodrar in Niger.

Amid growing anti-French sentiment in the five countries over the handling of the fight against the insurgency, in which hundreds of soldiers have been killed in recent weeks, Macron had warned that he might withdraw French troops without a clear political commitment from the African leaders.

The insurgency began in Mali in 2012 and soon spread to neighboring countries, with Burkina Faso and Niger particularly badly affected. Despite the presence of a 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping force in Mali, in addition to the French forces, the situation has been deteriorating. Militants linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh have strengthened their foothold, leaving large areas ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence.

— (With input from Reuters, AFP)

Ukraine to press for plane crash black boxes as Iran minister visits

Updated 20 January 2020

Ukraine to press for plane crash black boxes as Iran minister visits

  • Ukraine’s foreign minister said returning the black boxes would show that Iran wanted an unbiased investigation of the crash
  • The plane disaster has heightened international pressure on Iran

KIEV: Ukraine will press Iran to hand over the black boxes from the crash of a Ukrainian passenger plane at a meeting with a visiting Iranian delegation on Monday, Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko told reporters.
Ukraine would convey the message to visiting Minister of Roads and Urban Development Mohammad Eslami, that returning the black boxes would show that Iran wanted an unbiased investigation of the crash, Prystaiko said.
“His main task is to apologize and acknowledge what happened. We hope that we can go a little further than just political discussions and discuss practical problems. Among them in particular is the return of the black boxes,” Prystaiko said.
Iran had said on Sunday it was trying to analyze the black boxes from the airliner its military shot down this month, denying an earlier report it would hand them to Ukraine. All 176 aboard the flight died.
“At first they stated that they were handing them over, then the same person stated that they were not handing them over. This created some misunderstanding in Ukraine and we were starting to be asked: are they being handed over or not?“
Many of those killed had were Iranians with dual citizenship, but Iran does not recognize dual nationality and on Monday said it would treat the victims as Iranian nationals.
Canada, which had 57 citizens on the flight, said there were still no firm plans for downloading the recorders. Ottawa and other capitals have called for the black boxes to be sent abroad.
The Jan. 8 plane disaster has heightened international pressure on Iran as it grapples with a long-running dispute with the United States over its nuclear program and its influence in the region that briefly erupted into open conflict this month.
The Iranian military has said it downed Ukraine International Airlines flight 752 in error in the aftermath of tit-for-tat strikes by the United States and Iran. But authorities delayed admitting this, prompting days of protests on Iran’s streets.
Ukraine held a ceremony at Kiev’s Boryspil airport on Sunday as the bodies of 11 citizens, including nine crew, were returned to Ukraine.