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)

Mexico confirms first three cases of coronavirus, linked to Italy

Updated 38 min 43 sec ago

Mexico confirms first three cases of coronavirus, linked to Italy

  • The three men are believed to have visited northern Italy
  • Two more suspected cases are under analysis in the central state of Guanajuato and one in northwestern Durango

MEXICO CITY: Mexico’s health ministry said the country has confirmed three cases of the coronavirus, becoming the second Latin American nation reached by the global outbreak.
The three men — two in Mexico City and one in the northern state of Sinaloa — are all believed to have visited northern Italy, the epicenter of the virus in Europe.
“Probably all three were infected from the same source. All three are imported cases,” Jose Luis Alomia, general director of epidemiology at the Ministry of Health, said at a press conference Friday.
Senior health ministry official Hugo Lopez-Gatell told a separate news conference that one of the men, a 35-year-old in the capital, “has a mild, mild illness” with symptoms “similar to that of a cold.”
“He is a young individual and so he is at very low risk,” he said.
The patient and five members of his family have been isolated at the National Institute of Respiratory Diseases, Lopez-Gatell added.
The second case, a 41-year-old man who returned from Bergamo in Italy, is in isolation at a hotel in Sinaloa after being tested by regional authorities, officials said.
A 59-year-old man in Mexico City who also visited northern Italy is the third case but authorities did not say whether he had been hospitalized.
Italy has recorded 650 cases of the coronavirus and 17 deaths across cities in the north.
In Mexico, two more, suspected cases are under analysis in the central state of Guanajuato and one in northwestern Durango.
“It is not a national or health emergency,” Lopez-Gatell said, urging Mexicans to remain calm and not panic-buy protective items such as masks.
Mexico is the second Latin American nation to confirm coronavirus infections after Brazil said it had a case on Wednesday.
More than 50 countries have now reported cases worldwide.
The virus has infected more than 85,000 people and over 2,900 have died — mostly in China where the epidemic started.