Sunday, 19th January 2020

West Africa

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France and five West African states agreed on Monday to combine their military forces under one command structure to fight a growing Islamist militancy in the Sahel region, with Paris committing an extra 220 troops.

French President Emmanuel Macron had called the leaders of Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania, known as the G5, to the southwestern French town of Pau to discuss the battle against insurgents in the Sahel, an arid region just below the Sahara desert.

With growing anti-French sentiment in the five countries over Paris’ handling of an insurgency by Islamist militants that has seen hundreds of their soldiers killed in recent weeks, Macron had warned that he could withdraw French troops without a clear political commitment from them.

France, the former colonial power, has 4,500 troops in Mali and the wider Sahel, but security has been progressively worsening. Macron said the situation had now been clarified.

Militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have strengthened their foothold, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.

“Today, more than ever, the fact is that the results, despite the effort, are below the expectations of the population,” Burkina Faso President Roch Marc Kabore told a joint news conference. “It’s for this reason that we have decided to review the deployment and redefine the pillars for our future action.”

The new structure, named Coalition for the Sahel, brings the G5 states, French forces and any future troops under a single command. It aims to enable joint operations, greater intelligence-sharing and quicker response time in particular for French forces in the border areas linking Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso, where the insurgency is at its worst. 


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.

Another 220 French troops will be sent to give fresh momentum to the fight with more European special forces expected to join in the coming months, he said.

“The priority is Islamic State in the Grand Sahara. ... It is our priority because it is the most dangerous,” Macron said. “We have no choice, we need results.”

French troops were hailed as heroes in 2013 when their intervention helped prevent an Islamist militant push to the Malian capital, Bamako.

But their standing has slipped as the security situation deteriorated. At least 89 local soldiers were killed in a suspected jihadist attack on an army base in Niger this weekend, four security sources said.

Pau, the location of the summit, is home to a helicopter regiment which saw several of its French soldiers killed in a helicopter collision in Mali in November. 

Macron said he was also worried of a possible withdrawal by the United States military in the area. It provides intelligence, logistical and drone support for France’s forces. There have been mixed signals from Washington that it could pull out.

“If the Americans were to decide to leave Africa it would be really bad news for us,” Macron said. “I hope to be able to convince President (Donald) Trump that the fight against terrorism also plays out in this region.”


The death toll from Thursday’s attack by suspected jihadists on a Niger army base has risen to at least 89, four security sources said, surpassing a raid last month that killed 71 soldiers as the deadliest against Nigerien forces in years.

The government said on Thursday that 25 soldiers were killed, according to a provisional death toll, while successfully repelling the attack in the western town of Chinagodrar by assailants aboard motorcycles and other vehicles.

Four security sources told Reuters that at least 89 members of Niger’s security forces killed in the attack were buried on Saturday in the capital, Niamey.

One of the sources said the actual death toll could be higher because a number of soldiers were buried immediately on Thursday in Chinagodrar.

Defence Minister Issoufou Katambe said that an updated death toll would be announced after a national security council meeting on Sunday. 

The Chinagodrar attack, coming a month after the raid in nearby Inates by fighters from an Islamic State affiliate that killed 71 soldiers, highlights the deteriorating security situation near Niger’s borders with Mali and Burkina Faso.

Attacks have risen fourfold over the past year in Niger, killing nearly 400 people, according to data from the Armed Conflict Location & Event Data Project, a non-profit research organisation, despite efforts by international forces to stop militants linked to Islamic State and al Qaeda. 

French fighter jets were scrambled on Thursday to scare off the attackers, France’s regional taskforce said, possibly averting an even heavier casualty count.

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the attack, but Katambe said on Friday that the army would launch a new offensive against jihadists.

West Africa’s Sahel region, a semi-arid belt beneath the Sahara, has been in crisis since 2012, when ethnic Tuareg rebels and loosely aligned jihadists seized the northern two-thirds of Mali, forcing France to intervene to temporarily beat them back.


Fifty-eight percent of French people back the country’s military operations in Mali, despite last week’s army helicopter crash that resulted in the deaths of 13 troops, said a survey on Monday.

“The level of support from French people remains very stable,” said Jerome Fourquet, who helped carry out the survey for Ifop, which was published in La Lettre de l’Expansion.

Last week, French President Emmanuel Macron ordered the military to review its operations against Islamist militants in West Africa and pressed his allies to do more after the 13 soldiers died during their combat mission.

A national ceremony for the 13 dead soldiers is due to take place in Paris later on Monday.


Suspected Boko Haram jihadists killed four Chadian troops early on Monday in a newly established military outpost on Lake Chad, the military and local officials said.

Boko Haram has training camps on several of the islands that dot the vast, shallow Lake Chad, which straddles the borders of Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon as well as Chad.

"We killed 13 Boko Haram elements and we deplore the loss of four soldiers," a military source said, adding that three soldiers were injured in the attack at around 1:00 am Monday local time.

Nouki Charfadine, the governor of the Lake Chad region, also confirmed the toll. 

"We set up this military post between Ngouboua and Bagassoula village after the kidnapping" of a doctor, a nurse and their driver in the area on October 31, the governor said. 

Five villagers were also killed in the area in the middle of November.

The jihadist insurgency, which broke out in northeastern Nigeria a decade ago, has spilled over into neighbouring countries.

In 2015, the Lake Chad countries, together with Benin, set up a combined force to fight Boko Haram with the help of local groups of armed citizens.


Nigeria's former justice minister has been detained in Dubai in connection with one of the West African country's biggest ever corruption scandals, his lawyer said on Thursday.

Mohammed Adoke, who also held the post of attorney general, was "abruptly arrested by Interpol" on November 11 after going to the United Arab Emirates for medical treatment, lawyer Mike Ozekhome said.

A Nigerian court in April ordered arrest warrants for Adoke and former petroleum minister Dan Etete, over the corruption scandal centred on a $1.3 billion oil deal involving international giants Eni and Shell.

But Ozekhome insisted that the warrants were subsequently quashed by the Nigerian court and that the former official was being "illegally" kept in custody. 

"I therefore call on the Dubai authorities and Interpol to release Mr. Adoke, to enable him to undergo his treatment," he said.

Nigeria's attorney general said his office was yet to receive any formal communication on the detention and could not confirm Adoke had been arrested.

The was no comment from the authorities in Dubai on the matter. 

Adoke and Etete have both been in hiding outside Nigeria for years in the face of accusations over the case dubbed the "Malabu scandal" after a key company reportedly involved in the deals.

Eni and Shell are accused of handing out bribes during the 2011 purchase of OPL245, an offshore oil block, for $1.3 billion. Both oil companies deny any wrongdoing.

The allegations have led to a string of cases in a number of countries that have led to convictions in Italy and a probe against Shell in the Netherlands.


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