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Sahel insurgency could ‘engulf’ W. Africa, says Ghana president

West African heads of state pose with European Council President Charles Michel at the Accra Initiative regional security conference in Accra, Ghana, Nov 22, 2022. (COOPER INVEEN / REUTERS)

ACCRA – Ghana's President Nana Akufo-Addo on Tuesday warned that a rampant Islamist insurgency in West Africa's Sahel is threatening to engulf the entire region.

West African leaders and European ministers are in Ghana's capital Accra to discuss regional solutions to the insurgency that is spreading as foreign troops pull out of Mali, where militants have seized vast swathes of territory.

France, Denmark and Ivory Coast are among countries that ended military cooperation with Mali this year over the ruling junta's cooperation with Russian mercenaries.

READ MORE: Macron announces official end of military operation in the Sahel

Mali, where West Africa's insurgency took root in 2012, has been at odds with regional governments, Western powers and a United Nations peacekeeping mission since a military government that seized power in an August 2020 coup failed to hold promised elections.

There are concerns military withdrawals from Mali will create a security vacuum in an area where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have already branched into Mali's neighbors and moved into coastal states south of the Sahel

There are concerns military withdrawals from Mali will create a security vacuum in an area where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have already branched into Mali's neighbors and moved into coastal states south of the Sahel.

"Today the terrorist groups, emboldened by their success in the regions, are seeking new grounds," Akufo-Addo said on the second day of the Accra Initiative security conference.

"The worsening situation… threatens to engulf the entire West Africa region," he said.

ALSO READ: UN Security Council condemns attack on peacekeepers in Mali

Attacks have increased over the past decade despite efforts to fight insurgents. The violence has killed thousands of people and displaced more than 2.7 million across the Sahel, according to the UN.

Conflict and climate shocks have also created a food crisis in the region.

Over 30 million people in Sahel will require lifesaving assistance and protection in 2022, almost two million more than the previous year, the UN said in June.

French Barkhane force soldiers who wrapped up a four-month tour of duty in the Sahel leave their base in Gao, Mali, June 9, 2021. (JEROME DELAY / AP)

Coastal states such as Benin and Togo have meanwhile seen rising attacks in recent years, prompting discussions about Western help to stem the insurgency's southward spread.

READ MORE: Militants attack Mali military base, situation 'under control'

"The risk of contagion into the coastal states is not a risk anymore, it's a reality," said European Council President Charles Michel.

"We all need to identify the best way to have an impact on the ground," he said, adding that EU support to the region included "lethal hardware for defensive purposes".