French President Emmanuel Macron made his first official trip outside Europe on Friday, visiting French troops stationed in Mali and pledging to be uncompromising in the fight against Islamist terrorism.
Macron said at a joint news conference in Gao with Malian counterpart Ibrahim Boubacar Keita that terrorists in West Africa were “clearly a risk for Europe.” He vowed that French troops would remain in Mali until the extremists were eliminated.
He also praised an “exemplary” relationship with the United States on counterterror efforts in Africa’s Sahel region. Without it, “we would not be able to operate in the area,” he said.
More needed from Germany
Macron called for Germany to do more in Africa to help protect Europe from the threat of Islamist terrorism. “I want to strengthen those European partnerships, in particular with Germany, and ensure that the German engagement, which is already visible, intensifies,” he said.
Macron also met on Friday with some of the 1,700 French soldiers stationed in Gao. France has about 4,000 soldiers who are deployed in five West African countries — Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Chad and Burkina Faso — all of which are battling Islamist extremism.
Most of the terrorists in the region trace their origins to al-Qaida’s North Africa branch.
Mali extremists remain a problem
Mali’s president expressed his gratitude toward France for its military intervention, which began in 2013 after al-Qaida-linked militants took over Mali’s northern region. French and Malian forces have pushed the militants back from their strongholds, but the extremists still operate in the country.
Keita said the road is long, “but we are going forward and we will succeed.”
France is the former colonial power in Mali and has strong ties to the region.