France’s President Emmanuel Macron has announced his country’s plans to scale down counter-terrorism operations in the Sahel region of West Africa after eight years adding that the existing 5,100-strong task force will be incorporated into a broader international mission.

French forces have been operating in Mali, Chad, Mauritania, Niger, and Burkina Faso to fight militants.

Militants linked to al Qaeda and the Islamic State (IS) group have strengthened their grip on the region, which has become a front line in the war against Islamist extremism.

It is also a major transit route for illegal drugs, weapons and jihadists.

During a press conference on Thursday, Presidebt Macron said “We will keep a counter-terrorism pillar with special forces with several hundred forces… and there will be a second pillar that will be co-operation, and which we will reinforce.”

He said those left in the region would work with other European nations as part of the Takuba Task Force which is fighting militants in the Sahel alongside the armies of Mali and Nigeria.

The president said the drawdown of troops would take place in an organised way and details will be finalised by the end of June.

Last week, France paused operations in Mali following a military coup.

Months after the death of Chadian leader Idriss Déby Itno who was killed in battle with rebels, Mali experienced its second coup in nine months.

Following the second coup, President Macron told a French newspaper that he had told regional leaders that France would not support countries where there was no democratic legitimacy or transition, and that France had no intention of keeping its troops in Africa forever.

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