Chancellor Merkel has called for the deployment of anti-terror troops in Africa’s troubled Sahel region. European and African leaders met for talks outside Paris to discuss plans to battle the growing jihadi threat.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel told the summit of leaders on Wednesday that making a counter-terrorism force operational on the ground in the Sahel was a matter of "urgency."
"Islamic terrorism is spreading. We cannot wait. We need to start leading the fight as soon as possible," Merkel said. "This is an urgent task."
She said Germany was ready to provide about €1 billion ($1.18 billion) between 2017 and 2021 to support the Sahel mission.
The conference in La-Celle-Saint-Cloud, west of Paris, was hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and attended by leaders of five West African countries known as the G5 — Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. Senior officials from the European Union, United Nations, African Union, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) were also at the meeting.
In June, the G5 Sahel coalition launched a joint combat force, with backing from France and Germany, to target Islamist rebels and terrorist militias across the vast region. But the mission's development since then has been slow.
The EU has already agreed to provide the five-nation Sahel force with €50 million in funding, with France to contribute an additional €8 million and the African nations to put forward €10 million each. The United States has pledged $60 million.
Macron announced Wednesday that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had also promised $130 million.
Read more: UN approves Sahel counterterrorism force
The French president told the summit "we must win the war against terrorism in the Sahel," following the military victories against the "Islamic State" (IS) group in Iraq and Syria.
"There are attacks every day, there are states which are currently in jeopardy... We must intensify our efforts," he added.
Macron stressed that France's 4,000-strong Barkhane force, which has been fighting Islamist extremists in the region since 2014, will help the G5 Sahel force, saying "we will win victories in the first half of 2018."
The UN's 15,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali will also coordinate with the G5 Sahel. Germany has a mandate to contribute up to 1,000 troops to the UN mission.
The G5 Sahel conducted a first symbolic operation in October, and leaders hope it will start regular operations as a 5,000-strong army sometime before mid-2018.
But the project has developed slowly since its inception amid a lack of funding, training and personnel. Incidents of Islamist militant attacks in the region — some affiliated with "Islamic State" and al Qaeda — continue to plague the region.
"For the last few months, the activity of terrorist groups has not decreased and the armies continue to suffer significant losses, which means that there is an operational urgency to regain control of the region and to increase the military effort," a French diplomatic source told Reuters news agency ahead of the meeting.
Multiple Islamist militant groups have been active in the Sahel region, particularly across the porous borders of the G5 countries.
In recent months, two attacks claimed the lives of four UN peacekeepers and a Malian soldier in Mali, while a separate attack left four US and 17 Nigerien soldiers dead.
nm/sms (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)