N’DJAMENA (AFP) – Chad should remain militarily involved in Mali, France’s defence minister said Saturday in N’Djamena on a tour of the region to drum up support for a robust force when his own troops pull out.
“Since we are entering a new phase, a phase which is almost post-conflict, we should not allow any security vacuum,” Jean-Yves Le Drian said after a meeting with Chadian President Idriss Deby Itno.
Since France’s surprise January 11 intervention to quash Al-Qaeda-linked groups that had taken control of half of Mali, Chad’s experienced desert commandos have provided the most useful support.
Chad has voted a phased withdrawal of its 2,000 soldiers deployed in northern Mali while France has already started downscaling its combat operations in its former colony.
The United Nations Security Council on Thursday authorised the creation of a 12,600-strong peacekeeping force that would include the soldiers from an already existing West African force.
“The UN decision to send peacekeepers has led us to discuss with President Deby the way in which Chad will continue to be active in Mali and in which France will continue to ensure Mali’s security,” Le Drian said.
“Given the importance of Chad’s involvement in the African-led International Support Mission to Mali and the number its soldiers, their courage and determination in combat, it is logical Chad should have responsibilities.”
Chad paid a heavy price for its involvement with French elite forces in raids to hunt down retreating Islamist fighters in the remote mountains near the border with Algeria, with a toll of 36 dead and 74 wounded.
On Friday, Le Drian had travelled to Niger, which has close to 700 troops in the African force. He was previously in Mali, where he said elections should be held in July.