French minister in Sahel to push regional defence strategy

French Defence Minister Florence Parly arrived in Chad on Sunday at the start of a tour of three Sahel countries where France is backing a regional defence strategy against jihadist insurgents.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly (C)is on a two-day visit to Chad
French Defence Minister Florence Parly (C)is on a two-day visit to Chad (AFP)

French Defence Minister Florence Parly arrived in Chad on Sunday at the start of a tour of three Sahel countries where France is backing a regional defence strategy against jihadist insurgents.

The two-day swing will see Parly joined for part of the trip by German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen in a joint show of support for the initiative.

In the Chadian capital Ndjamena, Parly will meet President Idriss Deby, followed by talks in Niger with head of state Mahamadou Issoufou and with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita in Mali, her ministry said in a statement in Paris.

Parly "will reaffirm France's support for the emergence of a joint G5 Sahel force (...) tasked with playing a key role in fighting terrorism and trafficking which are contributing to instability in the region," it said.

She will also meet soldiers in Operation Barkhane -- a 4,000-man French mission to shore up fragile Sahel countries against jihadists who have carried out a wave of bloody bombings, shootings and kidnappings.

The planned G5 Sahel anti-terror force would gather Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a 5,000-man joint unit.

France is trying to muster international support for the estimated 423 million euros ($480 million) it will cost, as the participating countries rank among the poorest nations in the world.

Newly-elected French President Emmanuel Macron has won a commitment -- yet to be detailed -- from German Chancellor Angela Merkel to support the scheme.

Von der Leyen will join Parly in Niger and Mali where they will "seize the opportunity to show their support for providing equipment and training for the G5 force, as well as their active efforts to mobilise European and international partners to support their action," the French defence ministry said.