BAMAKO — French and German support for a regional Sahel force to battle jihadists will persuade other European nations of the benefits of backing the counter-terror measure, Germany’s defence minister said Tuesday.
Ursula von der Leyen spoke to journalists in Bamako after talks with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, arriving six days after a helicopter crash in the country’s north killed two German crew who were monitoring clashes for the United Nations mission to Mali.
Von der Leyen said the discussion had centred on the autumn deployment of the force from the so-called "G5 Sahel" countries (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger), "and above all the Franco-German initiative to support it".
Franco-German backing would ensure that other European nations "join in our support" for the 5,000-strong joint unit, said von der Leyen, who was joined in Mali by French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly.
The talks focused on the "very substantial progress made" since President Emmanuel Macron’s Mali Bamako visit last month, Parly told reporters, which saw the French leader throw his weight behind the anti-jihadist force.
"We were able to check that commitments, in terms of timing especially, were being adhered to and that in particular a base in Sevare (in central Mali) will be ready by the end of August," Parly said.
France is trying to muster international support for the estimated 423 million euros (US$480 million) it will cost, as the participating countries rank among the poorest nations in the world.
Macron has won a commitment -- yet to be detailed -- from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to support the scheme.
France has 4,000 troops serving across the Sahel region with a counter-terror mandate, while Germany has reinforced its presence in Mali this year, deploying several helicopters and raising the number of Germans serving with the UN mission to 639 as of June.
The two German crew members killed last week were repatriated on Saturday. — AFP