President Macron to press Sahelian leaders over terroristic insurgency

Nigerien soldiers

Nigerien soldiers

France's military presence in the region, called Operation Barkhane, was set up in 2014 and aims to support local forces in their fight against armed groups.

Counterterrorist activities are spread across the five Sahel countries, but the future focus will be on three of the most risky zones bordering Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Jihadist attacks on civilians and troops have been on the increase.

Last year, only $300 million (269 million euros) of $400 million pledged by the global community in cash and material support to the Sahel was delivered, according to the French presidency.

Criticised in France for allowing French troops to get bogged down and facing growing hostility in West Africa for failing to restore stability, Macron has become increasingly frustrated, but the French leader appeared satisfied with Monday's results. Last month, Macron said he wanted the Sahelian leaders to clarify whether they want and need French troops.

Macron wants the summit to help legitimize French operation in the Sahel by sending out a strong common message.

Macron named the summit with West African leaders after a helicopter collision during a combat operation in November in which 13 French soldiers fought Islamic extremists in Mali near the Niger border.

France, the former colonial power, has 4,500 troops in Mali and the wider Sahel, but security has been progressively worsening.

"We're developing options for the secretary to consider, and we are developing those options in coordination with our allies and partners", he said.

UN Security Council ambassadors stood for a minute of silence Monday in memory of 89 soldiers killed last week during a jihadist assault on a Niger military base.

Some are linked to al-Qaeda and others the Islamic State (IS) group.

The New York Times reported last month the Pentagon was considering reducing troop levels in Africa or even withdrawing completely. He also wrote to "salute the courage and bravery" of the military forces who lost their lives and repelled the attack in Chinagodrar.

It was the deadliest on Niger's military since Islamist extremist violence began to spill over from neighbouring Mali in 2015, and dealt a blow to efforts to roll back jihadism in the Sahel.

French troops have been in the Sahel region since they intervened in 2013 to recapture northern Mali from militants. "It is our priority because it is the most risky", Macron said.

A question mark hangs over the engagement of the United States, which has threatened to wind down its military operations in West Africa, potentially depriving Barkhane forces of vital intelligence, logistical and drone support.

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