The Pentagon chief informs his French counterpart that the United States supports the Sahel mission.

In a phone call with his French counterpart on Monday, US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin assured him of Washington’s continued support for counterterrorism efforts in Africa’s Sahel region.

France has about 5,000 troops fighting Islamist militants in West Africa’s Sahel region, with logistical support from the US. In June, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that France would be withdrawing from the region.

Austin’s conversation with French Armed Forces Minister Florence Parly comes as the US seeks to mend relations with Paris following Washington’s announcement on Sept. 15 a security partnership with Australia and Britain that sunk a major defense contract for a French submarine builder.

“Secretary Austin applauded French leadership in countering terrorism in the region and assured her of continued U.S. support for this important mission,” the Pentagon said in a statement.

Washington has committed to stepping up its support for counterterrorism operations conducted by European states in the Sahel, according to a joint statement following a fence-mending call last week between U.S. President Joe Biden and Macron.

In his call with Parly, Austin also expressed his condolences for the death of French soldier Maxime Blasco, who was killed last week in a clash with militants in Mali. More than 50 French soldiers have died in the region since Paris deployed a counterterrorism force in 2013.

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