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France to reduce military presence in deadly Sahel region

Some 5,000 French troops are stationed in the Sahel region.   -  
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France is on the verge of cutting back its military presence in the volatile Sahel region to make room for reinforcements from other European countries, army sources said.

French troops first deployed to Mali in 2013 after a jihadist insurgency broke out in the country a year earlier.

Despite their presence, jihadist violence has spread to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The conflict has killed thousands of soldiers and civilians and caused many more to flee their homes.

The al-Qaeda-affiliated Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) are two of the deadliest groups in the region.

According to multiple military sources who spoke to AFP, France would like to withdraw several hundred troops from its current 5,100-strong contingent.

It would take it back to levels deployed before a surge in attacks in January,

A new European task force called Takuba hopes to support France in its long fight against violence in the vast Sahel region.

Task Force Takuba

Belgium, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, the Netherlands, Norway, Portugal, Sweden and the United Kingdom all made a political commitment to send special forces to Mali in March. French special forces will also participate.

But Takuba is still in its initial stages, and it is not yet clear when the different countries will deploy their troops -- with many countries requiring prior parliamentary approval.

Soldiers from Estonia participated in a mission in October and a Czech contingent is expected shortly, joined by a 150-strong Swedish unit.

Italy too has authorised the deployment of up to 200 soldiers, but it is unclear when they will arrive.

Takuba troops are tasked with supporting elite Malian soldiers, who use motorbikes and pick-up trucks to zip into territory lost to jihadists at high speed.

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