France backs efforts by West African states to boost security in their Sahel region, including a plan for a 5,000-strong multinational force to combat Islamist fighters, its foreign minister said on Thursday.

Jean-Marc Ayrault said the G5 Sahel states – Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger – must improve their counter-terrorism capacity.

“The countries of the G5 have decided to enter a new phase … with the creation of a common force to protect their borders,” Ayrault said after meeting Mauritanian President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz.

“The second phase consists of training specialized troops, not to replace Barkhane, but to strengthen it in the fight against terrorist groups, but also all sorts of trafficking that is wreaking havoc on the region,” he told Reuters.

Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive out al Qaeda-linked militants who seized northern Mali the year before. It has since deployed some 4,000 soldiers, known as the Barkhane force, across the region to hunt down Islamists.

 

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