France will intensify its efforts to help “decapitate” Qaeda-linked groups in the Sahel, President Emmanuel Macron told regional leaders via video conference on Tuesday.
He also urged the so-called G5 Sahel nations – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – to expand their own anti-terror fight and work on restoring government control and services in areas where extremist fighters operate.
“We are re-engaging our forces in order to decapitate these organisations,” Macron said during a two-day summit in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena.
He did not mention any drawdown of France’s 5,100-troop Barkhane operation in the region, after French losses in extremist attacks prompted calls for a review of the mission.
Macron said the efforts would focus on combatting the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and in particular one of its main armed groups, Katiba Macina.
The aim is “to strengthen actions against terrorism” while also carrying out a “political jolt... give the people of the Sahel something to hope for,” he said.
He said it was essential for states fighting extremists to win public support for counter-insurgency efforts.
“We have succeeded in gaining some real successes in the three-border zone,” Macron said, referring to a flashpoint area where the frontiers of Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso converge.
“The GSIM enemy has lost its hold and sustained numerous losses.”
“The international mobilization for the Sahel has never been as strong,” he said.
The GSIM has claimed responsibility for some of the biggest attacks in the Sahel since its official launch in 2017. It was placed on a US blacklist of terrorist organisations in September 2018.
One of its main components is the Katiba Macina, led by a radical preacher, Amadou Koufa, who comes from the Fulani, also called Peul, community.
He launched attacks in central Mali, an ethnic powderkeg, recruiting largely among members of his own community.
As a result, the wider Fulani community in the region became tarred with the attacks carried out by the Katiba Macina.
Other ethnic groups, notably the Dogon and Bambara, then formed so-called self-defense forces, setting the scene for bloody tit-for-tat violence.