The future of the Sahel rests on what happens in the coming year, according to the military chief of staff of France, which has a fighting force in the extremist-plagued region.
“It is now, in the coming year, that the Sahel’s future will be determined,” Francois Lecointre told France Info radio.
Only a political solution involving all the states of the region as well as the international community will guarantee security in the long run, he added.
France has a 4,500-strong anti-extremist force dubbed Barkhane supporting Sahel countries – Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, and Mauritania – fighting a seven-year-old extremist revolt.
Thousands of civilians have been killed, and hundreds of thousands have fled their homes.
Lecointre, who recently visited the region, vowed that “we are going to take it to the next level,” without elaborating. “If we miss this window, I am quite pessimistic.”
His remarks came three weeks after 13 French soldiers died when two helicopters crashed, followed by an attack on a base in Niger last week that killed 71 local soldiers.
Other bloody attacks have also recently rocked Mali and Burkina Faso.
France will host a summit in the southern town of Pau on January 13 with the presidents of Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali, Chad, and Mauritania.
President Emmanuel Macron has underlined that all options are on the table, including the withdrawal of French troops.