French President Macron on first African trip to Mali on Friday —Source

President Emmanuel Macron will visit French troops in Africa on Friday, a source close to the new leader said on Tuesday.

According to Rueters, aides have said he is expected to go to Mali where about 1,000 soldiers are based as part of Paris’ West African counter-terrorism force.

The source added that the new French government’s first cabinet meeting would take place on Thursday.

Last year, France accepted that it would need to keep thousands of troops in Africa’s Sahel region for an indefinite period given the ongoing instability and preponderance of Islamist militants.

The region, a politically fragile area whose remote desert spaces spanning from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east host a medley of jihadist groups, is seen as vulnerable to further attacks after strikes on soft targets in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast earlier this year.

That has been brought further to light after a spike in violence in northern Mali, where France intervened three years ago to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who hijacked a rebellion in 2012 by ethnic Tuaregs and attempted to take control of the central government in Bamako.

French soldiers stand at attention during a morning drill at the French military base in Chadian capital N?Djamena, October 26, 2014. REUTERS/Emma Farge
French soldiers stand at attention during a morning drill at the French military base in Chadian capital, N’Djamena, October 26, 2014. PHOTO: REUTERS.

Speaking to lawmakers, Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault sought to reassure regional allies that Paris would not abandon them despite pressure on its military that has seen it increase operations in the Middle East, but also on home soil after a series of Islamist attacks.

“France remains committed as long as the jihadist threat continues to weigh on the future of these countries,” Ayrault said at a parliamentary debate on his country’s overseas operations.

“What message would we be sending if we envisaged a reduction of our effort? We do not have the right to abandon our African brothers at the exact moment when they need us the most to consolidate the fragile balances,” he said.

After sending troops to Mali, the former colonial power has since spread some 4,000 soldiers across the region to hunt down Islamists, while United Nations’ peacekeepers have been deployed to ensure Mali’s stability.

However, the U.N.’s forces have lacked equipment and resources making a political settlement between Tuaregs and the government in Mali increasingly fragile and paving the way for Islamists and traffickers to exploit a void in the north of the country.

“We know it will be long and difficult (because) the national reconciliation process is taking time to come into effect, securing the north is slow and terrorist groups continue to destabilize the region by carrying out attacks on Mali’s borders at the entrances to other countries like Niger and Ivory Coast,” Ayrault said.

France will next week seek to discuss Mali when it hosts a ministerial meeting on U.N. peacekeeping operations in French-speaking countries to see how to beef up and improve their efficiency.

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