Ouagadougou. The military leaders of Burkina Faso and Niger said Saturday they would quit the G5 anti-jihadist force in Africa's Sahel region, the latest blow to the fight against insurgents in one of the world's most troubled zones.
The G5, created in 2014, has secured only meagre results, with Mali also quitting the original five-nation force last year in the wake of a military coup.
Leaders of the five countries agreed to deploy a joint anti-terror task force backed by France in 2017, but the military rulers of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali have all accused Paris of having an outsize role after years of French deployments on their territories.
Burkina and Niger "have decided in full sovereignty to quit all instances of the G5 Sahel, including the joint force" as of November 29, the two countries said in a statement.
"The organisation is failing to achieve its objectives. Worse, the legitimate ambitions of our countries, of making the G5 Sahel a zone of security and development, are hindered by institutional red tape from a previous era, which convinces us that our process of independence and dignity is not compatible with G5 participation in its current form," they said.
In a veiled reference to France, they added that "the G5 Sahel cannot serve foreign interests to the detriments of our people, and even less the dictates of any power in the name of a partnership that treats them like children, denying the sovereignty of our peoples."
Le Monde suspended
Military leaders headed by Captain Ibrahim Traore seized power in Burkina Faso in September 2022, vowing to improve security after years of jihadist attacks by groups affiliated to Al-Qaeda and Islamic State.
Relations with France quickly broke down, with Traore's government ordering French forces that had been helping the under-equipped Burkinabe army to quit the country in February.
More than 17,000 people have died in attacks since 2015 in Burkina Faso, according to a count by an NGO monitor called the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project (ACLED), and two million people have been uprooted by the violence.
On Saturday, Burkina Faso suspended "all distribution methods" of Le Monde daily after the French newspaper published an article on a deadly jihadist attack in the north.
The Burkinabe authorities in recent months have suspended the French TV outlets LCI and France24 as well as Radio France Internationale and the magazine Jeune Afrique.
France has also begun withdrawing its 1,500 troops from Niger following demands by the military rulers who ousted President Mohamed Bazoum in July.
Niger's foreign minister Bakary Yaou Sangare on Saturday said the new US ambassador, Kathleen FitzGibbon, who arrived in August, would soon present her letter of assignment to authorities to take up her post.
Washington, which withdrew non-essential staff from its embassy in August, indicated at the time that FitzGibbon would not present her credentials to Niger's new authorities, as the United States did not recognise them.
The West African nation is battling two jihadist insurgencies -- a spillover in its southeast from a long-running conflict in neighbouring Nigeria, and an offensive in the west by militants crossing from Mali and Burkina Faso.
Along with Mali, which saw a military coup in 2020, Burkina has backed Niger's military, with the three nations on Friday supporting the creation of an Alliance of Sahel States, setting up closer economic ties and mutual defence assistance.
The military regimes have also formed close ties against international pressure for a swift return to civilian rule, and to combat the long-running jihadist insurgencies raging in the three countries.
Only Chad and Mauritania now remain in the G5, whose military deployment is largely financed by the European Union.
The French deployment in the region goes back over a decade to 2013, when then president Francois Hollande sent troops into Mali to help fight a jihadist insurgency.
But the military successes have contrasted with political failure, as democracy regressed rather than developed in a region also plagued by a flood of disinformation that Paris blames on Russia.
France also began pulling its troops from Mali last year, ending what became known as the Barkhane mission.
On the ground, few joint G5 operations have actually been carried out and the security situation has continued to deteriorate.
In late November, at least 40 civilians were killed by a major jihadist attack against a military base at Djibo in northern Burkina Faso, according to the United Nations.