The French government has decided to withdraw some troops from the African region of the Sahel. President Emmanuel Macron said that France could "adjust" its operations following the successes against Jihadist militants and the arrival of more European forces.
A decision will be taken at the next joint summit between France and the G5 Sahel, the regional anti-terrorist force of West Africa, which includes Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. The summit will be held in February in N'djamena, the capital of Chad, under the auspices of President Emmanuel Macron and the army chiefs.
According to diplomatic and military sources, France is expected to announce a partial withdrawal in mid February. Florence Parly, the minister of the armed forces, said that Macron and the regional heads of state will discuss the situation at a summit in Chad next month.
France is the Western country with the largest military presence conducting counter-insurgency operations in Mali and the Sahel in general, a desert region of West Africa just below the Sahara desert.
Last year Paris increased the number of troops in its Berkhane anti-terrorist operations from 600 to 5,100 soldiers. They were sent as reinforcements after the G5 summit in Pau. Since 2013, at least 55 French soldiers have died in the Sahel, in the Serval and then Barkhane operations.
"The temporary reinforcements I decided to deploy have allowed Barkhane's force to put the terrorist groups, which are cornered and reduced to acts of cowardice, in great difficulty," Macron said in his annual New Year's wishes to the military.
"The results achieved by our forces in the Sahel, combined with the increased involvement of our European partners, will allow us to adjust our effort," he said, referring to the arrival of special forces from several European Union countries in recent months.
Despite Macron's praise for the successes against the militants, the situation remains fragile. Earlier this year, five French soldiers were killed in the area and four UN peacekeepers were killed last week in Mali.
These militants, linked to Al Qaeda and the Islamic state, have strengthened their presence in the region. As a result, these extensions of territory have become ungovernable and ethnic violence has been fuelled, particularly in Mali and Burkina Faso.
According to an opinion poll published last week, a majority of French people oppose the operation in the Sahel. This has created pressure on Macron to consider a major withdrawal before the 2022 presidential elections.