President Emmanuel Macron heads to Mali today for his first official visit outside the European Union amid a brewing spat with the French media.
"This visit to Mali is really to show to the French public, and also the people in West Africa and the rest of the world that he is not just the new president of France, he is also the commander-in-chief of an army that's now fighting an insurgency across northern Mali and the Sahel", Haque said, referencing a politically fragile area that spans from Mauritania to Sudan and hosts a number of armed groups. Here's a look at Emmanuel Macron's trip on Friday to France's largest overseas military operation - in a country where multiple extremist groups pose a growing danger to the region. "Our armed forces are giving their all, but we must speed up" efforts to secure the Sahel, he told a news conference in Gao, Mali, where he held talks with President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita and spoke to some of the 1,600 French soldiers based there. Macron said later he had promised to give them the equipment they needed.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko adress the media after a meeting at the German government guesthouse Meseberg Palace in Meseberg, Germany, May 20, 2017.
The German government earlier this year approved an expansion of the country's military deployment in Mali, with Berlin sending more helicopters to support the United Nations peacekeeping mission there and raising the maximum number of German soldiers from 650 to 1,000.
France has led worldwide counter-terrorism efforts in largely francophone West Africa, a role that the USA military has recognized and supported.
The presence of French Development Agency chief Remy Rioux in the President's entourage is taken as a sign that Mr Macron wants to put more emphasis on economic development in its former colonies.
In March, the three main jihadist groups in the region merged under the command of Ansar Dine leader Iyad Ag-Ghaly, calling the new group Nusrat al-Islam wal Muslimin.
Most of the extremist groups in the region trace their origins to al-Qaida's North Africa branch.
More than 332 people were killed in 385 attacks in 2016, including 207 civilians in the north and center of Mali, the NGO said. That attack, claimed by the al-Qaida-linked al-Mourabitoun extremist group, happened just days after Hollande visited the city.
The victims were soldiers and former fighters trying to stabilize the region after a 2015 agreement with the government.
Associated Press writers Sylvie Corbet and John Leicester in Paris and Baba Ahmed in Bamako, Mali contributed.