In Summary
  • Speaking to AFP and French radio station RFI, General Francois Lecointre said recent attacks by jihadists in Mali should be seen as the sign of a beleaguered enemy.
  • Since the start of the month, 26 Malian troops have been killed in jihadist attacks in central Mali, sparking angry protests by their relatives.
  • France sent troops into Mali in 2013 to help drive back Islamist insurgents who took control of the north of the country.
  • And Operation Barkhane, which has 4,500 troops, remains in place, with 2,700 soldiers in Mali to support poorly-equipped local military forces.

MENAKA,

France's armed forces chief says jihadist forces in Mali are on the back foot but the fight to restore peace in the poor Sahel country will be long.

Speaking to AFP and French radio station RFI, General Francois Lecointre said recent attacks by jihadists in Mali should be seen as the sign of a beleaguered enemy.

"The reason why the enemy has reacted so brutally is precisely because we went after him in his last holdouts," he said last week while visiting troops from France's Operation Barkhane in Mali.

"Another probable reason is that it has to restore a certain reputation with the public" for its ability to mount attacks, he argued.

CORNERED

Since the start of the month, 26 Malian troops have been killed in jihadist attacks in central Mali, sparking angry protests by their relatives.

"These highly symbolic attacks, which come on the heels of very powerful blows by Barkhane and its allies, are the reaction of someone who feels cornered," Mr Lecointre said.

"For me, it's a positive sign."

But the enemy had not yet been defeated, he said.

"Obviously.. these groups are trying to get themselves back together and forge alliances because they have been weakened."

LONG BATTLE

France sent troops into Mali in 2013 to help drive back Islamist insurgents who took control of the north of the country.

And Operation Barkhane, which has 4,500 troops, remains in place, with 2,700 soldiers in Mali to support poorly-equipped local military forces.

But the deployment comes at a hefty cost and has been subjected to political scrutiny.

General Lecointre, 57, said Mali faced a long-term battle for stability.

"I am cautious," he said.

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