French President Emmanuel Macron is making an exceptional appearance at the African Union (AU) summit in the Mauritanian capital of Nouakchott in a bid to focus attention on the security issues confronting the Sahel, the fragile transition zone between the Sahara and the African savanna.
Macron is expected to discuss hurdles facing a five-nation French-backed anti-terror unit, the “G5 Sahel” force.
Arriving in Nouakchott Monday afternoon, Macron paid tribute to the victims of a weekend attack in the northern Malian city of Gao and a suicide bombing last week in Sevare, in central Mali.
Macron said he would meet on the sidelines of an AU summit with the presidents of Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania — members of the G5 Sahel force – “to take concrete decisions on the redeployment of our forces.”
Al Qaeda-linked group claims attack on French troops
Macron’s arrival at the AU summit came as the al Qaeda-linked Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen group claimed responsibility for the attack in Gao, which killed four civilians and four French soldiers.
The region is home to a number of jihadist groups, many of which have pledged allegiance to either al Qaeda or the Islamic State (IS) group, explained FRANCE 24’s expert on jihadist movements, Wassim Nasr.
“Many groups in the Sahel are creating coalitions under two main banners – al Qaeda and the IS group,” said Nasr. “Among the groups under the banner of al Qaeda, Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen, which was formed in April 2017, is the most important.”
Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimeen has claimed responsibility for three deadly attacks in Mali since Friday as the country prepares for a presidential election on July 29. These include an attack on French forces on Sunday, an assault on the G5 Sahel taskforce headquarters in Sevare on Friday, and an attack on Malian troops on Saturday that killed five.