Macron sees successes in Sahel; U.N. says security, humanitarian situations worsen

A French soldier stands next to an armored vehicle in Inat

NOUAKCHOTT (Reuters) - President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday French and West African troops were having military success against Islamists in the Sahel, but the United Nations reported security was deteriorating and the humanitarian situation worse than ever.

Macron attended a summit in Mauritania on Tuesday with the leaders of five countries in the Sahel, the scrubland south of the Sahara where since 2013 thousands of French troops have been assisting countries battling Islamist fighters.

France has long been calling for more help from its European allies in the mission, which it sees as essential for protecting the security of Europe's southern flank.

The so-called G-5 Sahel nations comprise Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad. Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez also attended the summit, while other EU leaders joined by video.

"The last six months have seen some successes in the battle against terrorism including the killing of some important leaders," Macron told reporters on arrival in Nouakchott.

"We must now do more to ensure the state returns to regions," he added in reference to areas that had been under militant control, but had now been won back by regional troops.

Attacks in the Sahel have increased in the last two years, especially in the tri-border region of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali known as Liptako-Gourma, where local authorities have been overrun.

A joint statement by the United Nations and a group of aid organisations painted a dark picture of the situation on the ground.

"The security situation in the Sahel countries has deteriorated considerably in recent months. Conflicts prevailing in the region are having unprecedented humanitarian consequences," it said.

The joint forces, led by France's 5,100 troops, have so far targeted the regional affiliate of Islamic State, concentrating military efforts on Liptako-Gourma.

French forces killed al Qaeda's North Africa chief Abdelmalek Droukdel, they said this month. But the G-5 force has been hampered by a lack of funding, equipment and coordination.

The summit will assess recent gains and plan next steps after the countries agreed to bring their forces under one command structure six months ago.

Burkina Faso's President Roch Marc Kabore said the summit's context was "marked by the persistence of terrorist attacks."


(Reporting by Kissimou Diagana in Nouakchott, Thiam Ndiaga in Ouagadougou and John Irish in Paris; Writing by Bate Felix and Edward McAllister; Editing by Angus MacSwan and Peter Graff)