World News

West African anti-jihadist force replaces commander after HQ attack

FILE PHOTO: People enter the G5 Sahel force's new military headquarters in Sevare, in central Mali October 22, 2017. REUTERS/Aaron Ross/File Photo/File Photo

DAKAR (Reuters) - A West African military force tasked with countering Islamist militants has replaced its commander after a deadly attack on its headquarters last month, a spokesman for the G5 Sahel force said on Wednesday.

Mauritanian General Hanena Ould Sidi was chosen during an African Union summit earlier this month to replace Mali’s Didier Dacko, G5 spokesman Abdoul Salam Diagana said.

The force includes troops from Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Diagana told Reuters that the change came in response to the June 29 attack on G5 headquarters in central Mali, which killed five people and was claimed by a local al Qaeda affiliate. Dacko had commanded the force for the past year as it launched its first operations.

Chadian General Oumar Bikimo was chosen as Sidi’s deputy at the African Union summit in Mauritania, Diagana added.

The G5, which is meant to comprise 5,000 troops eventually, is seen by principal backer France as part of its strategy to draw down its own 4,000 troops spread across the semi-arid Sahel.

But the G5 has struggled to halt a wave of attacks by jihadi groups in recent months, including one earlier this month in northern Mali that killed four civilians and wounded four French soldiers.

French Defence Minister Florence Parly is visiting the region on Thursday and Friday to discuss the G5 and France’s own Barkhane mission.

Reporting by Aaron Ross; Editing by Edward McAllister and David Stamp