March 11, 2015 / 4:48 PM / 3 years ago

France to increase West Africa troops to support Boko Haram fight

PARIS (Reuters) - France is increasing its West African counter-insurgency force to support regional forces fighting Nigerian Islamist militant group Boko Haram, Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said on Wednesday.

French Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian (R) stands beside French Army Chief of Staff General Pierre Le Jolis de Villiers de Saintignon as they speak to journalists after a crisis meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, January 12, 2015. REUTERS/Philippe Wojazer

France has headquartered its more than 3,000-strong Sahel counter-insurgency force, Barkhane, in the Chadian capital N’Djamena, some 50 km (30 miles) from the Nigerian border.

Until now those troops have largely been tasked with tracking al Qaeda-linked militants spanning across the Sahara from Mauritania in the west and southern Libya in the east.

“We will slightly increase the numbers on Barkhane,” Le Drian told reporters without giving specific details.

He said the troops would provide support to forces fighting around Lake Chad, where Boko Haram has in recent months increasingly threatened regional countries.

Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Benin have mobilised forces this year to help Nigeria defeat Boko Haram after it seized territory and staged cross-border attacks.

“We do not intend to take part in the fighting,” Le Drian said.

Paris has, however, already sent about 40 military advisers to Niger’s southern border with Nigeria to help coordinate military action by the regional powers fighting Boko Haram and has been operating reconnaissance missions near the Nigerian border and sharing intelligence.

It is expected to reduce its 2,000 strong contingent in Central African Republic to deploy more to Barkhane, defence and military sources have said.

France, which has the U.N. Security Council presidency in March, is also pushing for a resolution by early April that would back a 10,000-strong African force to fight Boko Haram, providing it crucial financing to carry out operations.

Reporting Marine Pennetier and John Irish; Editing by Alison Williams

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