Bamako (IINA) � African powers launched a new multinational military force to tackle terrorism in the Sahel on Sunday, which French President Emmanuel Macron told a regional summit should be fully operational by the autumn despite its current budget shortfall, Reuters reported.
Some observers see the initiative of the G5 Sahel bloc � Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Niger and Chad � as forming the basis of an eventual exit strategy for around 4,000 French troops now deployed to the volatile region. But Macron said Paris had no plans to withdraw them.
During the meeting, leaders of the G5 Sahel countries formally established the new force, which will operate in coordination with French troops and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).
The countries of the G5 Sahel bloc began floating the idea of a regional force as early as 2015, but since taking office in May, Macron has thrown Paris's weight behind the plan, including through a UN resolution last month.
"There is urgency because those we're confronting are not going to wait," said Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita. "It's also clear that France alone must not continue to bear the burden of this fight against terrorism."
On Sunday, Macron said the force, which is expected to consist of around 5,000 troops, needed to be fully operational by this autumn.
With its military headquarters in the northern Mali town of Sevare, the G5 Sahel force will focus on border zones � one along the frontier between Niger and Mali, another between Mali and Mauritania, and a third straddling the borders between Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.
The European Union has pledged around 50 million euros ($57 million), and Macron said France would contribute around 8 million euros by the end of the year.
Each of the G5 Sahel members will contribute 10 million euros for the force. But President Keita on Sunday estimated the required total budget at 423 million euros.
Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger have deployed around 4,100 soldiers within MINUSMA. Niger and Chad also contribute troops to a similar regional force fighting Nigeria's Boko Haram militants.
Source: International Islamic News Agency