France says it will increase forces in Ivory Coast, as region faces growing Islamist threat

Al-Qaeda has killed more than 70 people since November in assaults targeting hotels also in Mali, Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast

FRANCE will boost the number of soldiers deployed in Ivory Coast to 900 from 500, ramping up military efforts in a region facing the threat of Islamist militants. 

The increase in French forces is part of the “reorganisation” to achieve a “true advanced operational base,” Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told reporters after he met with Ivory Coast’s President Alassane Ouattara on Friday in Abidjan, the commercial capital. 

France has more than 3,000 soldiers fighting Islamist militants in the Sahel, an arid region below the Sahara.

The increase was already included in the military budget but comes at a time of growing regional terror threats, especially after an Islamist attack on the beach resort of Grand Bassam, near Abidjan, in March that left 19 people dead.

Al-Qaeda has killed more than 70 people since November in assaults targeting hotels also in Mali, Burkina Faso. 

The group, whose main regional branch operates out of northern Mali, has pledged to launch more attacks on countries that support French military action.

Abidjan is one of three “reservoirs” of French troops in the world, along with Djibouti and the United Arab Emirates, providing entry points to the different regions, Le Drian added.

The forces can be deployed to support French troops engaged in external operations, such as Operation Barkhane in the Sahel region, or to intervene in a new crisis.

Last year, the French forces in Ivory Coast took over from Operation Licorne, which saw several crises in the country, most notably when they were deployed alongside UN troops in 2011 during unrest sparked by president Laurent Gbagbo’s refusal to step down after losing an election.

The French military also trains about 600 Ivorian soldiers each year.

“After the 2011 unrest, rebuilding the Ivorian army is essential to ensure the stability and prosperity of the country,” Le Drian said.

-Additional reporting Bloomberg

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