France urges US to stay in fight against extremists in Africa’s Sahel

French Minister of the Armies Florence Parly meets with French officers of the Barkhane counter-terrorism operation in Africa’s Sahel region, at the Barkhane base near Niamey in Niger. (AFP)
Updated 27 January 2020

France urges US to stay in fight against extremists in Africa’s Sahel

  • Defense Minister Florence Parly to meet with US counterparts to discuss the crisis in the Sahel
  • France relies on US intelligence and logistics for its 4,500-strong mission in the Sahel

PARIS/WASHINGTON: France hopes “good sense” will prevail and the United States will not slash support for French military operations in West Africa, where groups linked to Al-Qaeda and Daesh are expanding their foothold.

Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made the appeal as Defense Minister Florence Parly was due to meet US counterparts on Monday to discuss the crisis in the Sahel, a band of scrubland south of the Sahara.

The Pentagon announced plans last year to withdraw hundreds of military personnel from Africa as it redirects resources to address challenges from China and Russia after two decades focused on counter-terrorism operations. Those cuts could deepen following an ongoing global troop review spearheaded by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.

The possibility has alarmed France, which relies on US intelligence and logistics for its 4,500-strong mission in the Sahel. The deaths of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter crash during a combat mission in Mali in November increased France’s determination to secure more support in the zone.

France believes it is time to increase, not ease, pressure on militants to prevent “Daesh from rebuilding in the Sahel,” a senior French defense ministry official told Reuters.

Parly will put her case on Monday to Esper and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.

“I hope they will be rational to keep this partnership … and that good sense will prevail,” le Drian told reporters.

The US currently has 6,000 military personnel in Africa. Although some experts say a repositioning of forces is overdue, many US officials share French concerns about relieving pressure on militants in Africa.

“Any withdrawal or reduction would likely result in a surge in violent extremist attacks on the continent and beyond,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons wrote in a letter to Esper this month.

Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali the previous year. Fighters have since regrouped and spread. Over the past year, militants have stepped up attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Although groups in the Sahel are believed to have the intent to carry out attacks against the United States, they are not currently believed to have the capacity to do so, officials say.

General Francois Lecointre, chief of staff of the French armed forces, told Reuters that the loss of US intelligence from intercepted communications would be the “biggest setback.”

“I’m doing my utmost to prevent this from happening,” he said, adding that French drone-based spying systems would not be operational until year-end.

France said this month it would deploy 220 additional troops to the region, despite rising anti-French sentiment in some countries and criticism at home that its forces are bogged down.

Parly recently visited the Sahel with counterparts from Portugal, Sweden and Estonia to press European allies to do more, especially by contributing special forces to a new French-led unit due to be set up this year.

One of the main aims of the outfit, officials said, is to improve coordination between regional troops and French planes able to carry out air strikes.

So far, take-up has been limited with only Estonia committing 40 troops, while discussions continue with eight nations. Germany has refused to take part.


Indian Muslims in riot-hit Delhi slam govt for inaction

Updated 27 February 2020

Indian Muslims in riot-hit Delhi slam govt for inaction

  • Indian PM Modi appeals for calm as death toll from violence rises to 27

NEW DELHI: Sadaqat has been trying to collect the body of his shooting-victim brother from a New Delhi hospital since Tuesday.

The 26-year-old, who arrived to work in the Indian capital a few weeks ago, said on Wednesday he was afraid to seek help from police who have been struggling to contain violence over a new citizenship law which has resulted in scores of deaths, mostly among Muslims.

“The hospital is refusing to hand over my brother’s dead body even after 24 hours,” he told Arab News. “No one is there to help me. I am scared to reach out to police also. I am so scared that I don’t want to go to my house for fear of violence. Yesterday, I took refuge at my relative’s house in another part of Delhi.”

Sadaqat claimed his younger brother, Mubarak, was returning to his rented house in the Maujpur area of northeast Delhi, when a Hindu mob shot him dead.

On Wednesday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appealed for calm. According to media reports, violent clashes in the city have claimed 27 lives since Sunday evening, although the unofficial death toll has been put at more than three dozen. The neighborhoods of Maujpur, Mustafabad, Jaffrabad and Shiv Vihar are said to be in the grip of fear.

“I am planning to leave for Jaipur and stay there until the situation becomes normal. I have never seen this kind of violence in my life,” said 30-year-old garment seller Sharukh.

“My neighbor’s son was injured in the violence, but he is scared to go to the police and report it. He also doesn’t want to go to hospital. We have lost our trust,” he added.

Trouble started when a Hindu mob attacked Muslims protesting in Jaffrabad against the citizenship law that provides fast-track naturalization for some foreign-born religious minorities but not Muslims. As clashes spread, several mosques were damaged, and numerous shops and houses belonging to Muslims were burned down.

India has been rocked by violence since the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) was passed in December last year. The legislation is seen by many as anti-Muslim and has raised concerns that when the Indian government goes ahead with its National Register of Citizens (NRC), many from the Muslim minority population will be rendered stateless.

Delhi-based social activist, Nadeem Khan, told Arab News: “There is a sense of helplessness among Muslims now. They don’t have the resources to fight the government. They were already at the receiving end of the CAA and NRC, and this violence further marginalizes the community in their own land.”

In a Twitter post on Wednesday, Modi said: “Peace and harmony are central to our ethos. I appeal to my sisters and brothers of Delhi to maintain peace and brotherhood at all times.

“It is important that there is calm, and normalcy is restored at the earliest. Police and other agencies are working on the ground to ensure peace and normalcy.”

The premier’s statement came after the opposition Congress Party questioned the government’s silence on the violence in Delhi and demanded the resignation of Modi’s right-hand man, Minister of Home Affairs Amit Shah.

During a press conference in New Delhi on Wednesday, Congress president, Sonia Gandhi, said: “The central government, including the home minister, is responsible. The Congress party demands that he resigns immediately.”

Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar responded to Gandhi’s statement by calling it “unfortunate and condemnable,” and blaming her for “politicizing the violence.”

He said: “At such times all parties should ensure that peace is maintained, blaming the government instead is dirty politics.”

Meanwhile, the High Court of Delhi on Wednesday called for legal action against those who incited violence and requested “the filing of cases of those who made hate speeches.”

Political analyst Prof. Apoorvanand, of the University of Delhi, told Arab News: “The BJP’s (Bharatiya Janata Party) hate campaign and the vilification of the Muslim protesters in the last few months has resulted in the violence.

“No one is willing to take Modi’s words for calm at face value. The violence was state-sponsored. The violence sent a message to Muslims that they are helpless, and the state cannot help you,” he added.