Niger needs a French military buffer, training and weapons as it continues to strengthen its army to tackle Islamist insurgents, Defense Minister Alkassoum Indatou said on Friday at a joint meeting with French officials in Niamey.
French Foreign Minister Catherine Colonna and Defense Minister Sebastien Lecornu arrived in Niger on Friday to finalize a regional redeployment as France's withdrawal from neighboring Mali continues.
Lecornu told reporters French and Niger army chiefs have been tasked to make proposals to the heads of state of both countries by fall so that decisions on the new Sahel strategy will be made by the end of the year.
Indatou added that Niger had made progress in rebuilding its army but it was a long way from defending itself as it is confronting insurgents in several areas on its borders with seven countries, with only one of the frontiers relatively stable.
The vast West African nation, nearly twice the size of France, borders Mali, Burkina Faso, Benin, Nigeria, Chad, Libya and Algeria.
Niger has emerged as the key player in the fight against jihadist linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State in West Africa after relations between Mali and its partners deteriorated, prompting France and other European powers to withdraw their troops.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in May promised Niger, which also hosts some German troops, long-term military and financial support to fight Islamist insurgents.
Niger will become the hub for French troops, with some 1,000 soldiers based in the capital Niamey with fighter jets, drones and helicopters. Some 300-400 would be dispatched for special operations with Niger troops in the border regions with Burkina and Mali, French officials told reporters in a briefing.