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France will reduce its military operations in the Sahel

France has 5,100 soldiers in the Sahel region

France will scale back its counterterrorism operations in the Sahel region of West Africa after eight years, President Emmanuel Macron said.

The existing 5,100-member working group will be part of a larger international mission, he said.

French forces are operating in Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Niger and Burkina Faso to fight the militants.

Last week, France suspended operations in Mali following a military coup.

Activists linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group have tightened their grip on the region, which has become a front line in the war against Islamist extremism.

It is also a major transit route for illegal drugs, weapons and jihadists.

“We will keep an anti-terrorism pillar with special forces with several hundred forces (…) and there will be a second pillar which will be cooperation, and which we will strengthen,” Macron said at a press conference Thursday.

The president said the troop withdrawal would take place in an “organized manner”.

“France has been involved for a little over eight years in the Sahel,” Macron said. “Many of our soldiers have fallen. I think of their families. We owe them consistency, clarity. We are going to learn from what worked and also what did not work.”

In recent months, Chadian leader Idriss Déby Itno has been killed in action and Mali has seen its second coup in nine months.

After the second coup in Mali, Macron told a French newspaper he told regional leaders that France would not support countries where there was no democratic or transitional legitimacy, and that France did not intend to keep its troops in Africa forever.

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