Macron vows to step up French fight against Islamists in Africa
By Marine Pennetier
GAO, Mali (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.
France has been particularly hard hit by Islamist militant violence, with more than 230 people killed over the past two years.
The Sahel, a politically volatile, mainly desert expanse stretching from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, hosts a variety of jihadist groups and is seen as a springboard for attacks on European targets.