UPDATE 2-Macron vows to step up French fight against Islamists in Africa
* President says will keep troops in region as long as needed
* Visit to French troops in Mali fulfils campaign pledge
* Macron says agreed with Merkel to strengthen cooperation (Updates with later Macron speech, press conference)
By Marine Pennetier
GAO, Mali, May 19 (Reuters) - France will step up the fight against resurgent Islamist militants in north and west Africa and will work more closely with Germany to help the tinderbox region, President Emmanuel Macron said on his first trip outside Europe on Friday.
Visiting Mali days after taking office, Macron vowed to keep French troops in the Sahel region until there was "no more Islamist terrorism" there. He said operations would be escalated in response to signs that militant groups were regrouping and uniting.
"It is vital today that we speed up. Our armed forces are giving their all, but we must speed up" efforts to secure the Sahel, he told a news conference in Gao, Mali, where he held talks with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and spoke to some of the 1,600 French soldiers based there.
Spurring economic development in the impoverished Sahel is also part of his strategy, he said. "We must win the war and win the peace at the same time."
Macron's early trip to Mali fulfilled a campaign promise, underlining the importance he places on combating militants in the Sahel whom he said could threaten Europe. Continued...