France could deliver drones to help Benin battle militants
COTONOU (Reuters) -France could deliver drones and more sophisticated weapons to Benin to help it tackle a worsening Islamist insurgency that is threatening the region, President Emmanuel Macron said on Wednesday.
Macron made the pledge during a joint press conference with Benin’s President Patrice Talon on the second leg of his three-nation tour of Cameroon, Benin and Guinea-Bissau.
Benin, alongside the Gulf of Guinea states Togo and Ivory Coast, has seen increasing attacks from militants linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State as violence spreads south from the Sahel countries of Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Benin and Togo have suffered deadly attacks in recent weeks. France is withdrawing thousands of troops from Mali after a decade there and seeking to redefine its strategy to fight insurgents in region.
A central pillar of the new strategy is to help the countries strengthen their armies, provide support and allow them to take the lead in operations on the ground. Countries that request it could have French troops on the ground.
Macron said France was already providing Benin with intelligence, training support, and other civilian aid to help develop areas that are vulnerable jihadist threats.
Macron pledged to soon deliver vehicles, de-mining equipment, bulletproof vests and night vision equipment.
Talon said that Benin was hoping for more because the fight against terrorism has become one country’s major challenges, which could hurt its economy.
“Unfortunately, we have so far not managed to convince French military authorities on certain aspects of military co-operation, particularly the supply of equipments, but I salute France’s support on intelligence and training,” Talon said.
“We need weapons,” Talon said, adding that the country had the financial means to acquire the equipment from third parties but would prefer to deal with France.
(Reporting by Pulcherie Adjoha and John IrishAdditional reporting by Ange Aboa in Abidjan Writing by Bate Felix; Editing by Nellie Peyton, Robert Birsel and Lisa Shumaker)