France’s Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian on Tuesday encouraged African nations calling for greater autonomy over their security to “go for it”, following the launch of a regional anti-jihad force in the Sahel.
France currently has its own a 4,000-strong counter-terror force named Barkhane tackling militants and banditry in West and Central African nations targeted by Al-Qaeda and increasingly Islamic State.
Speaking at the annual Dakar International Forum on Peace and Security in Senegal, Le Drian declared he was “tempted to say let’s go for it and ensure that Africa’s mobilization leads to better performing peacekeeping missions with better results”.
Le Drian noted the successful first operation of the French-backed G5 Sahel force, an anti-jihadist military initiative staffed by pooled resources from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
African leaders including the presidents of Mali, Rwanda and Senegal on Monday made clear that Western interventions in countries such as Libya have proved disastrous for the continent, emphasizing regional solutions to increasingly bold terrorists on the continent.
Le Drian also underlined support for a regional cybersecurity college to be established in Senegal within a year’s time.
France meanwhile trains 10,000 African soldiers a year, Defence Minister Florence Parly told journalists in Dakar on a visit to a French base.
The vast Sahel region, stretching from Senegal to Sudan, has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, Islamists overran northern Mali in 2012 and Boko Haram rose up in northern Nigeria.
Despite efforts by France — the former colonial power in the Sahel — and the United Nations, militants in Mali are a growing problem after being chased from key cities in 2013.
Financing the new G5 Sahel force remains a problem and will form the heart of a leaders’ meeting in mid-December in Brussels.
The participating nations emphasise that the force requires significant funding from the international community, as current pledges stand at 108 million euros ($126 million), while up to 423 million euros may be needed in its first year.