French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Mali on Sunday to consolidate Western backing for a regional anti-jihadist force, with France urging greater support for the Sahel region amid mounting insecurity.

The so-called “G5 Sahel” countries just south of the Sahara — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — have pledged to fight jihadists on their own soil with instability and Islamist attacks on the rise.

Macron is joining the heads of state of these nations in Bamako for a special summit where France’s full support for the force will be announced, with a focus expected on providing equipment.

With its base in Sevare, central Mali, the 5 000-strong G5 Sahel force aims to bolster the 12 000 UN peacekeepers and France’s own 4 000-strong military operation known as Barkhane operating in the region.

He is also expected to make the case for extra backing from Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium and the United States — which already has a drone base in Niger — beyond a pledge of 50 million euros ($57.2 million) by the European Union.

Serge Michailof, a researcher at the Paris-based IRIS institute, described the EU contribution as “a joke” in the context of the EU’s “very deep pockets”.

“This force is going to cost $300-400 million at the very least,” he told AFP, and would be especially difficult for certain nations involved which are already “choking” on military spending.

The question of funding is sensitive as Chad’s leader Idriss Deby has said that for budgetary reasons his troops cannot serve simultaneously at such high numbers in the UN peacekeeping mission and also in the new force.

Deby and Macron are due to meet on the margins of the Bamako summit to discuss the issue, according the French presidency, as Chad’s military is widely viewed as the strongest of the five Sahel nations.

– By SABC