Macron hosts Chad's Deby with Niger troop withdrawal topping agenda


French President Emmanuel Macron has held talks with Chad's transitional President Mahamat Idriss Deby over the withdrawal of French forces from Niger and regional crises in the Sahel.

Presidents Macron and Deby reportedly discussed "all regional issues, including Sudan, Libya and Niger, as well as the return of our military resources to France," during a meeting at the Elysée Palace on Wednesday.

The French president's office added that the meeting "also enabled the two presidents to discuss the continuation of the political transition in Chad."

This comes as the French army is due to evacuate 1,400 troops and their equipment – for the most part via Chad – after being forced to leave Niger after last July's coup d'état.

French soldiers will fly to France from N'djamena, while convoys of heavy equipment will reach the port of Douala in Cameroon, passing through areas harbouring jihadist groups.

At the end of September, President Macron said that French troops would leave Niger "by the end of the year," however  experts believe a period of around six months will be required due to logistical challenges involved, with the equivalent of 2,000 containers to be repatriated.

The first French soldiers left Niger on Tuesday in an overland convoy under local escort, heading for Chad.

French operations had been deployed in Niger to fight jihadists alongside the Nigerien army, including around 1,000 in the capital Niamey and 400 at two forward bases in the west of the country, at the heart of the so-called "three borders" zone with Mali and Burkina Faso.

Regional crises

Also on the agenda of Wednesday's meeting was the conflict in Sudan and ongoing political crisis in Libya.

On 15 April, hostilities broke out between the Sudanese army led by General Abdel Fattah al-Burhane and the Rapid Support Forces led by General Mohamed Hamdane Daglo.

Since then, hundreds of thousands of refugees have sought sanctuary in Chad which is already struggling to contain its own, internal humanitarian and food security crises.

Meanwhile, Chad's northern neighbour Libya has been in the grip of a major political crisis since the fall of Muammar Gaddafi's regime in 2011, undermined by divisions between East and West and by foreign interference.

General Mahamat Idriss Deby was declared interim president of Chad by a junta of 15 generals on 20 April 2021, immediately after the announcement of the death of his father – President Idriss Deby Itno – who was killed by rebels at the front after 30 years of ruling the country with an iron fist.

The transitional period was meant to last for only 18 months before elections, but Mahamat Idriss extended the term by two years in October 2022, citing the decision of a National Reconciliation Dialogue that boycotted by the vast majority of the opposition and the most powerful armed rebel groups.