African leaders have moved closer to the creation of a military force capable of intervening in crises like the one in the Central African Republic.
Leaders attending a two-day summit on peace and security at the Elysee Palace in Paris have reached broad agreement on France’s proposals to turn plans agreed in principle earlier this year into a reality.
France has offered to provide equipment, logistical support and coordination for the force, and will seek to persuade its European Union partners to help with financing.
Jean-Yves Le Drian, France’s defence minister, said on Friday that the force could be operational by 2015 and that France would train 20,000 African troops a year for five years.
Al Jazeera’s Jacky Rowland, reporting from Paris, said the force would serve as a rapid-reaction contingent that will help Africa police its own security.
After concluding the main summit with discussions on economic development and climate change, the leaders were due to hold further discussions on the crisis in the Central African Republic.
France will send an additional 1,000 troops, bringing the number in its former colony to 1,600, after the passing of a UN Security Council resolution sponsored by Paris.
An African Union force is also operating in violence-plagued CAR. Both French and African troops have been authorised by the Security Council to use a “appropriate measures” to protect civilians and restore security and public order.
Break from past
The CAR mission is France’s second military operation in Africa this year. In January, President Francois Hollande sent more than 4,000 troops to Mali, where Islamist groups had seized control of much of the north of the country and had threatened to advance on the capital Bamako.
The operations have continued a long-established pattern of France intervening militarily on the continent, but Hollande’s government insists its approach represents a break from the past, when Paris was often accused of propping up undemocratic regimes and cynically pursuing its own interests in the region.
French officials framed the Mali operation as vital to prevent the country becoming a new Afghanistan-style stronghold for armed groups, which could destabilise a region where Europe has vital strategic energy interests as well as potentially exporting terrorism.
The intervention in CAR has been presented as an essentially humanitarian operation designed to avoid thousands of needless deaths as tit-for-tat sectarian killings spiral out of control.
France’s decision to act in both cases has won praise if little in the way of concrete support from its allies, most notably from the United States, which on Friday hailed the “strong leadership” shown by Hollande over CAR.
While African leaders are keen to address the continent’s myriad security problems and reduce their dependence on the former colonial powers at times of crisis, France is also keen to scale back its costly commitment.
Paris currently has more than 5,000 troops stationed at bases across Africa and the cost of maintaining them stands at $540m per year.