Macron postpones G5 Sahel meeting after deadly Niger attack

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FILE PHOTO: French President Emmanuel Macron addresses a press conference on the second day of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) summit in Brussels, Belgium, July 12, 2018. Ludovic Marin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

French President Emmanuel Macron and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou agreed on Thursday to postpone to early 2020 a meeting of Sahel country leaders due to take place in France later this month, the French presidency said.

The decision to postpone the event, which was to address France’s military presence in the region as well as the fight against jihadist organisations, follows an attack on a remote military camp in Niger.

The Islamic State group on Thursday claimed the attack in a statement confirmed by the SITE intelligence group. According to an army spokesman, 71 soldiers were killed in the assault on a military camp located near the border with Mali.

Niger is part of a five-nation anti-jihadist task force known as the G5, set up in 2014 with Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania and Chad.

Thousands of civilians and soldiers have died in violence across the vast Sahel region, which began when armed Islamists revolted in northern Mali in 2012.

The conflict has since spread to the centre of Mali and to neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger. Attacks continue, despite the 4,500 French troops deployed in the region as part of Operation Barkhane to help local forces.

Thirteen French soldiers were killed in Mali last month when two helicopters collided during an operation against jihadists in the country’s restive north, in the heaviest single loss for the French military in nearly four decades.