Niger president says G5 Sahel force is "dead" after Mali's departure

NIAMEY, May 18 (Reuters) - Niger’s President Mohamed Bazoum said that the G5 Sahel multi-national force fighting Islamist insurgents in West Africa is “dead” following Mali’s announcement that it was pulling out.

The force, which includes troops from Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, was set up in 2017 to counter jihadists who have swept across the Sahel region, killing thousands of people and forcing millions to flee their homes.

Mali’s decision to withdraw followed a breakdown in relations with regional allies and with former colonial ruler France, spurred by the junta’s reluctance to hold elections after two successive coups.

“The G5 Sahel is dead. The isolation of Bamako in West Africa is bad for the whole sub-region,” Bazoum told French newspaper La Croix in an interview published on Wednesday.

A presidential spokesman confirmed his comments, telling Reuters: “His position on the G5 Sahel is clear.”

The force has been hobbled by a lack of funding and has struggled to reduce the violence. Mali’s ruling junta announced on Sunday it was pulling out, blaming a lack of progress in the fight against the Islamists.

About 2,400 French troops and 900 special forces in a French-led European task force are expected to leave Mali in the coming months and Niger has agreed to host some of them, giving it a more prominent role in the region’s fight against Islamists.

Niger’s tri-border region with Mali and Burkina Faso has been the epicentre of the insurgency by groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State, which started in Mali a decade ago and spread. (Reporting by Boureima Balima Additional reporting and writing by Nellie Peyton Editing by James Macharia Chege, William Maclean)