France sets up anti-Islamist force in Africa's Sahel

French helicopters flying near Timbuktu (file photo 2013) The French force based in Mali has officially wound up its work and will be replaced by the new operation

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France is to set up a new military operation in the Sahel region of northern Africa in an effort to stop the emergence of jihadist groups.

About 3,000 French soldiers will be deployed, along with troops from Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad.

On Monday France ended its military deployment in Mali, set up 18 months ago after an Islamist insurgency there.

French forces helped the Malian government recapture the north from al-Qaeda-linked militants last year.

Counter-terrorism

The new long-term force, named Operation Barkhane, will be based in the Chadian capital N'Djamena, but will have a mandate to operate across borders.

It will target Islamist extremists in Mali, Chad and Niger.

The French troops will be backed by six fighter jets, 20 helicopters and three drones.

The main objective of Operation Barkhane is counter-terrorism, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian has said.

The new deployment will take place in the coming days.

The Sahel includes some of the world's poorest countries but has rich natural resources in the form of minerals and gas.

France sent troops to Mali in January 2013 after Islamist militants threatened to overrun the capital, Bamako.

But Mr Le Drian said Islamist groups posed a threat to the entire region.

Map showing where militant groups are based

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