French President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday he hoped a West African regional force aimed at combating Islamist militants and criminals in the arid Sahel region would be operational within weeks.
He spoke after a summit of presidents from Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger – the G5 Sahel bloc – which is setting up the multi-national force which will function along side French and U.N. missions in the region.
France and its African partners must work together to wipe out Islamist militants in the volatile Sahel region, Macron said at the opening of the summit in Mali’s capital Bamako.
“Every day we must combat terrorists, thugs, murderers … who we must steadfastly and with determination eradicate together,” said Macron, who was making his second visit to Mali since taking office in May.
Islamist militant groups, some with links to al Qaeda, seized control of Mali’s desert north in 2012.
While they were driven out of major cities and towns a year later by a French-led military intervention, they continue to carry out attacks against on U.N. peacekeepers, Malian soldiers and civilian targets.
The violence has spilled over into neighbouring countries in West Africa’s Sahel region and Paris has deployed thousands of French troops to combat Islamists under a cross-border operation known as Barkhane.