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France, Germany tighten defence cooperation in Africa’s Sahel

France has said it has no plans to withdraw them, a stance reiterated by Parly in Niamey.

French troops patrol in the streets of Gao on February 3, 2013. France said it carried out major air strikes on the same day near Kidal, the last bastion of armed extremists chased from Mali's desert north in a lightning French-led offensive. Picture: AFP / Sia Kambou

NIAMEY – Germany on Monday lent support to France’s push to make operational a new multinational military force that will tackle Islamist militants in Africa’s Sahel region and urged other powers to contribute funds at an Autumn donor conference.

On a joint visit to Niger’s capital, Niamey, German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen and her French counterpart, Florence Parly, said the Sahel force was West Africa’s best hope for defeating the militants.

Some observers see the G5 Sahel force, comprised of troops from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad, as forming the basis of an eventual exit strategy for around 4,000 French troops deployed in the volatile region.

France has said it has no plans to withdraw them, a stance reiterated by Parly in Niamey.

“We need to find other European partners. Italy, Spain and others have already expressed an interest,” the German minister said before leaving Niamey, where she announced the supply of military equipment to Niger.

Parly and Von der Leyen’s trips are the latest show of tightening defence and security cooperation between Berlin and Paris since Emmanuel Macron became French president in May.

In mid-July Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel unveiled plans on Thursday to develop a European fighter jet, burying past defence industry rivalries in a move designed to give fresh impetus to Franco-German relations.

Macron wants the roughly 5,000-strong Sahel force to be fully operational by the autumn.

Paris considers the Sahel a breeding ground for militants and traffickers who pose a threat to Europe. Yet the force faces obstacles, including financing, arms and training.

The European Union has pledged about €50 million and France has said it would contribute about €8 million by the end of the year. The force will cost between €400 and €500 million per year.

The ministers announced plans for a September donor conference in Berlin. French diplomats hope to bring Washington on board.

“We have to offer them a business model, which allows them to contribute money bilaterally, behind the scenes,” one French diplomat said. “They want to cut funding for international organisations but have more flexibility when it comes to bilateral aid.”

Parly met the presidents of Chad and Niger. She will travel on Tuesday to a French military base in the northern city of Gao in Mali before heading to Bamako where she will meet up with Von der Leyen again.

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