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Hollande in Chad ahead of Sahel anti-jihadi base launch

media François Hollande meets Ivorians in Abidjan on Friday Reuters/Luc Gnago

French President François Hollande was in Chad on Saturday in a visit to prepare the launching of a new headquarters for French forces in the Sahel region. The Barkhane operation will consist of 3,000 troops and be operational on 1 August.

The headquarters of Barkhane, which has been named after a crescent-shaped sand dune, will be in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, where Hollande arrived late on Friday ahead of a meeting Saturday with President Idriss Déby Itno and a visit to some of the 1,000 French troops already in the country.

Dossier: War in Mali

It was the last stop on a three-day mini-tour that also took the French president to Côte d’Ivoire and Niger.

Barkhane will bring together the Serval operation in Mali with Epervier in Chad and Sabre in Burkina Faso and will have 3,000 troops at its disposal.

It will be operational on 1 August and be under the command of General Jean-Pierre Palasset, who headed the Licorne operation in Côte d’Ivoire in 2010-2011, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian, who is travelling with Hollande, announced on Saturday.

As well Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Mali will be involved in France’s plan to have a rapid reaction force to tackle jihadi groups in the Sahel.

“Rather than having large bases that are difficult to handle in times of crisis, we prefer to have installations that can be used for rapid and effective interventions” under a single command, Hollande said.

The project has been in the pipeline for several months but was put off because of a resurgence in violence in northern Mali.

There will be four regional bases – a desert tactics group in Gao, north Mali, the headquarters and air force in N’djamena, special forces in Burkina Faso’s capital, Ouagadougou, and intelligence in Niger’s capital, Niamey, Le Drian said.

There will be temporary advanced bases in Madamain  Niger, Tessalit in Mali and northern Chad.

Hollande was to discuss the situation in the Central African Republic, where violence between Muslims and Christians has flared up after the collapse of central government, with Deby.

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