PARIS (AP) — France will withdraw more than 2,000 troops from an anti-extremism force in Africa’s Sahel region and pivot its military presence to specialized regional forces instead, President Emmanuel Macron said Friday.
Macron announced last month a future reduction of France’s military presence, arguing it’s no longer adapted to the need in the area. The French Barkhane force, operating in Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, had also met opposition from some Africans.
After discussions Friday with leaders of the African countries involved, Macron announced that France would reduce its force to 2,500 to 3,000 troops over the long term. The country currently has 5,000 troops in the region.
“We will do it in stages,” Macron said, with the next six months focused on dismantling the Barkhane operation and reorganizing the troops.
French troops have been present in Mali since 2013, when they intervened to force Islamic extremist rebels from power in towns across the country’s north. Operation Serval was later replaced by Barkhane and was expanded to include other countries in an effort to help stabilize the broader Sahel region.
Islamic militants, though, have continued to launch devastating attacks against the militaries fighting them as well as increasingly against civilians.
Hundreds have died since January in a series of massacres targeting villages on the border of Niger and Mali.
While governments in the Sahel have embraced France’s military help, some critics have likened their presence to a vestige of French colonial rule.