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)

Son of UK’s first surgeon coronavirus victim calls on UK to protect health workers

Updated 11 min 53 sec ago

Son of UK’s first surgeon coronavirus victim calls on UK to protect health workers

  • Family of Adil El-Tayar ask why NHS is not testing doctors on a regular basis
  • UK government under fire for not providing enough protective equipment for health workers

LONDON: The family of a Sudanese surgeon who died from coronavirus has called for the British government to do more to protect hospital staff.

Adil El-Tayar, an organ transplant consultant in London, who had also worked in Sudan and Saudi Arabia, was the first National Health Service (NHS) surgeon to die in the UK as a result of COVID-19. The 63-year-old passed away last Wednesday.

“Our view is that the NHS needs to do much more to protect the frontline workers (and) it’s unacceptable that in 2020 in the UK, there is even a question about whether the frontline workers are well protected and they should have been testing frontline staff from the very beginning,” Othman El-Tayar told Arab News.

He questioned why the NHS is not testing their doctors on a regular basis, let alone testing potential COVID-19 patients.

“They tell us just to stay at home for a week and they tell you not to come to hospital unless you become short of breath, at which point it’s too late. So don’t come to the hospital unless you’re coming to die. I mean, it’s absolutely unbelievable,” he said.

Othman said that his “father helped so many people throughout his life, not just through medicine, just as a person as well.” 

He said he hoped his father’s legacy will live on.

“People need to be aware that this isn’t just a virus and just numbers on the television screen, this is now very real.”

The UK government came under renewed pressure Tuesday over the shortage of protective equipment for health workers and the lack of coronavirus testing available for doctors and nurses.

Dr Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer for England, apologised for the delay in getting personal protective equipment to NHS staff.

El-Tayar was volunteering on the front lines against the outbreak in a hospital in central England. 

His cousin, the British-Sudanese broadcast journalist Zeinab Badawi, paid tribute to the surgeon.

“He wanted to be deployed where he would be most useful in the crisis,” she said on the BBC.

On Monday, health workers paid tribute to another Sudanese-born health worker who died from coronavirus in the UK.

Amged El-Hawrani, 55, an ear, nose and throat consultant, died in Leicester on Saturday.