France Summons African Leaders, Threatening Troop Pullout


DAKAR, Senegal — France has called five African presidents to a meeting on Monday to disavow rising anti-French hostility in their countries, work out how to stop the rapid advance of armed Islamist extremists in their region and determine whether France will remain deeply engaged in that fight.

France could withdraw its 4,500 soldiers, President Emmanuel Macron has said, if the leaders of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania do not answer questions to his satisfaction. That warning came as the United States also considers pulling troops from the region.

Many analysts say the French and Americans are making empty threats when they talk about leaving the Sahel, a semiarid area stretching more than 2,000 miles across West and Central Africa that is plagued by violent groups loosely affiliated with the Islamic State and Al Qaeda. But their warnings illustrate the allied nations’ frustration with extremist gains, and with one another.

France, the five countries’ former colonial ruler, initially intervened in 2013 to oust rebels and Islamist militants who had taken control of northern Mali in the wake of Libya’s descent into chaos. The militants regrouped, and now extremist-related violence is rising fast, doubling every year since 2015.

Without Barkhane, countries would collapse in on themselves, causing uncontrolled terrorism and hugely increased migration to Europe, Gen. François Lecointre, head of France’s armed forces, told CNEWS, a television channel, in July.

But some experts say that these threats are much exaggerated, and that pulling out could force the region’s elite to find political and social solutions to a crisis entangled in disputes over access to land and resources.

“It’s they who have the solutions, not the French,” said Marc-Antoine Pérouse de Montclos, a French political scientist specializing in Africa.

How contrite the African leaders are willing to be with Mr. Macron is not just a matter of pride and posturing, but of retaining power. They will be carefully calibrating what they say publicly, and what they say to the French in private.

In effect, critics say France is helping shore up governments that lack confidence in their own armies, either doubting their ability to fight extremists or worrying about the possibility of military coups. Yet the presidents also have to satisfy voters unhappy with the presence of the former colonial power.

The president of Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Kaboré, hit back at Mr. Macron’s “summons” to Pau, where the official agenda includes seeking more international support for Sahel countries and reassessing France’s role there. Calling for mutual respect, Mr. Kaboré, who plans to run for re-election in November, said in a televised address last month that the “tone and the terms” used posed problems.



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