France Ends Africa Military Operation to Join Broader Alliance


President

Emmanuel Macron

said he was ending France’s yearslong counterterrorism operation in the Sahel region of Africa as part of a plan to replace it with a broader international force.

Operation Barkhane, as the French military campaign is known, will be folded into an international alliance that will include France’s Western and regional partners, Mr. Macron said. Mr. Macron didn’t say if he was planning to withdraw any of the 5,000 troops that France has stationed in the region, the semiarid belt running along the southern edge of the Sahara.

“We will begin a profound transformation of our military presence in Sahel,” Mr. Macron told reporters on Thursday.

Mr. Macron has led calls for what he has dubbed a European army to help shoulder security burdens as the U.S. has cut troop numbers in Africa. The U.S. military has provided support to the French operation, including drone surveillance, troop transport and other intelligence-gathering activities. In 2017, Islamist militants killed four U.S. soldiers based in Niger.

France has been pushing its allies for years to share more of the burden in securing Mali and other Sahel countries that have become routes for people trafficking and terrorism. At least 50 French soldiers have died in Sahel since France’s military arrived in 2013 to defend Mali’s government in Bamako from militants who had overrun the country’s north.

Since then, France has built a vast counterterrorism operation, fighting branches of Islamic State, al Qaeda and other militant groups that roam the Sahel region’s isolated villages and threaten government forces in Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and elsewhere.

Public support for France’s military presence, however, has waned in the region, where it is accused of returning to its former role as a colonial power. In April, the opposition in Chad launched protests against Paris’s decision to back the son of autocrat

Idriss Deby,

after the leader was killed in combat.

In Mali, army Col.

Assimi Goita

took power in May following his overthrow of a second president in nine months. Mr. Macron described the move as a coup within a coup and temporarily suspended joint operations between French and Malian troops on June 3. That sparked a volley of pro-Russian demonstrations.

France “cannot replace the return of a state and state services, political stability and the choices of sovereign states,” Mr. Macron said on Thursday. “We are there to support states, not to replace them,” he said.

Over the weekend, over 130 civilians were killed by an Islamic State affiliate in Burkina Faso—the country’s worst terrorist atrocity.

Mr. Macron said France remained committed to fighting terrorism in the region. France will hold discussions with its regional and international partners including the U.S. and complete its plans by the end of this month, Mr. Macron said.

Write to Noemie Bisserbe at noemie.bisserbe@wsj.com and Benoit Faucon at benoit.faucon@wsj.com

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