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Macron to announce a restructuring of French forces in Mali

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French President Emmanuel Macron will announce a drawing down of French forces battling Islamist militants in Mali in the troubled Sahel region of Africa.

France currently has 5,100 troops in the arid and volatile Sahel region, which stretches across Africa under the Sahara desert encompassing Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

Macron has pushed for years for other Western states to share more of the burden of security operations that see French soldiers, backed by air power, intervening against jihadist groups alongside local forces.

He also faces pressure at home to end a deployment that began in January 2013, while in the Sahel region itself the presence of French forces are rejected by some politicians and locals as a colonial throwback.

>> Read more: France’s war in Mali

Macron’s announcement could force the issue of security in the Sahel onto the agenda of a meeting of G7 leaders in Britain set to run from Friday to Sunday and a summit of the NATO military alliance in Brussels on June 14.

The Sahel is seen by many Western politicians and experts as a major risk because of the growing strength of jihadist groups there, as well as its role as a crossroads for arms and people-smuggling.

In February, Macron announced his intention to reduce French troop numbers but said that a “massive withdrawal of men, which is a possibility I have considered, would be a mistake”.

At a virtual summit held at the time, the leaders of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, known as the G5 countries, warned him against the dangers of a rapid pullout.

Since then veteran Chad leader and close French ally Idriss Déby Itno was killed in battle while Mali saw a second coup that has complicated relations with Paris.

Last week France suspended its joint military operations with Malian forces and stopped providing defense advice because of the ruling junta’s failure to give guarantees to hold free elections.

The French Sahel mission, known as Operation Barkhane, is headquartered in the Chadian capital N’Djamena.

Click on the video player above to watch Macron’s press conference live.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP)

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