PARIS: France said Sunday its military offensive that freed northern Mali from the grip of Islamists would be replaced by an operation spanning the wider, largely lawless Sahel region to combat extremist violence.
The so-called Serval offensive kicked off in January last year when French troops came to the help of Malian soldiers to stop Al-Qaeda-linked militants and Tuareg rebels from descending south of the sprawling country and advancing on the capital Bamako.
France had initially planned to put an end to Serval and redeploy troops to the Sahel region in May but a fresh bout of clashes between rebels and the army in the flashpoint northern town of Kidal forced Paris to delay the pull-out.
“The president wanted a reorganisation of our troops in the (Sahel) zone,” Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Sunday in a television interview.
The French-led Serval operation, which saw eight soldiers die in 18 months, has widely been deemed a success by the international community.
But Le Drian said concern had now shifted to the vast Sahel region, “to make sure there is no upsurge (in terrorism) as there are still major risks that jihadists will develop in the zone that goes from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau.”
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