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EU Tells UK It Will ‘Never, Never, Never’ Compromise on Single Market

The European Union will “never, never, never” compromise on the integrity of its single market, its chief Brexit negotiator warned Britain on Monday, saying London must now face reality after underestimating the costs of leaving.Some British politicians have suggested Brussels might be flexible on its rules in order to protect trade flows in talks due to begin in the coming weeks after Britain’s formal exit from the bloc on Friday.But Michel Barnier, speaking in the British region of Northern Ireland widely seen as most at risk from Brexit, warned negative consequences were unavoidable.”There will be no compromise on the single market. Never, never, never,” Barnier told an audience at Queen’s University Belfast, describing the single market as the foundation of EU’s international influence.Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, speaks to the media at Government Buildings in Dublin, Ireland, Jan. 27, 2020.”Leaving the single market, leaving the customs union will have consequences. And what I saw … in the last year, is that many of these consequences have been underestimated in the UK,” he said. “Now we have to face the reality.”Hard choicesBarnier said that while Brussels was willing to be flexible and pragmatic in trade talks, Britain’s choices have made frictionless trade with the EU impossible.If no trade agreement is reached, Britain still faces the risk of a cliff-edge Brexit in 2021 when an 11-month status quote transition ends, he added.”If we have no agreement, it will not be business as usual and the status quo, we have to face the risk of a cliff edge, in particular for trade,” Barnier said.The EU has repeatedly said the level of access UK products can continue to enjoy will be proportionate to the commitments London makes on EU rules, particularly in relation to state aid.”It is not clear to me whether, when the UK leaves the EU and the Single Market, it will also choose to leave Europe’s societal and regulatory model. That is the key question, and we are waiting for an answer,” Barnier said.Northern IrelandIrish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar earlier Tuesday said there would have to be some checks on goods going from Britain into Northern Ireland, despite British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s repeated insistence that these will not be needed.Johnson’s willingness to allow some EU regulations to apply in Northern Ireland to prevent the need for a border on the island was the crucial concession he offered last year to obtain a withdrawal deal with the bloc.Barnier was asked repeatedly by journalists in Belfast whether trade talks could avoid the need to have checks, but he would only say the text of the withdrawal agreement that governs it was binding and could not be revisited.”The Withdrawal Agreement must be applied with rigor and discipline by all sides. It cannot be re-opened under the guise of implementation,” Barnier said. Implementation will be crucial in building trust for the trade talks, he added.Varadkar earlier on Monday told Britain’s BBC that the European Union would have the upper hand in trade talks, having the “stronger team” due to its larger population and market. Johnson’s aim of getting a deal by the end of 2020 “will be difficult,” Varadkar added.
 

US Noncommittal on Keeping Troops in Africa

The United States is refusing to rule out shrinking the size of its military presence in Africa despite warnings that without Washington’s help, critical counterterror efforts could fall apart.French Defense Minister Florence Parly delivered the latest plea for continued U.S. involvement in the counterterror fight Monday during talks with top U.S. military officials at the Pentagon.But following the meeting, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Washington had to take into account other urgent priorities.”We are focused on great power competition, first with China, then Russia,” Esper told reporters. “My aim is to adjust our [military] footprint in many places. No decisions have been made.”French Minister of Armed Forces Florence Parly and Secretary of Defense Mark Esper speak during a news conference at the Pentagon in Washington, Jan. 27, 2020.France currently has about 4,500 troops in Africa, taking a lead role in countering terror groups linked to Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaida across the Sahel region.Earlier this month, in response to the death of 13 French soldiers during a combat mission in Mali late last year, France said it would send another 220 troops to the region.And France is not alone in sounding the alarm about the growth of terror groups on the Sahel.A increasing number of Western diplomats have warned that IS, in particular, is using the region to regroup following the loss of its self-declared caliphate in Syria and Iraq.The concern has run so deep, that during an anti-IS coalition meeting hosted this past November in Washington, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that partner nations were already looking to West Africa and the Sahel as “a preferred, initial area of focus” outside of Syria and Iraq.“We agreed at the working level that West FILE – French President Emmanuel Macron visits French troops in Africa’s Sahel region in Gao, northern Mali, May 19, 2017.”There is a lot of collaboration in terms of logistics but also in terms of intelligence,” Niagale Bagayoko, a lead researcher and chair of the African Security Sector Network, told VOA. “That is one of the reasons why the French are presently eager to see the Americans to stay involved in the continent, in particular.”French officials have also emphasized that while they understand Washington’s desire to rebalance its forces across the world to better confront adversaries like China and Russia, they are not asking for a lot.”It’s a classic case of burden sharing where a limited U.S. support leverages an immesnse effort carried out by France and Europe,” Parly said Monday.Yet despite French officials expressing hope that “good sense” would prevail and that Washington would maintain its support for the French-led counterterror operations, U.S. defense officials have increasingly signaled such help may not be forthcoming.”France has reached out to other European allies. I think it’s time for other European allies to assist, as well, in the region,” Esper told reporters Monday. “That could offset whatever changes we make as we consider next steps in Africa.”VOA’s Salem Solomon contributed to this report.
 

Britain’s Decision on Huawei Tests Special Relationship with US

This week Secretary of State Mike Pompeo heads to London as British officials weigh whether or not to allow Chinese telecom giant Huawei to take part in the country’s buildout of its 5G network.The British government is expected to make the decision Tuesday.  FILE – Signage is seen at the Huawei offices in Reading, Britain, May 2, 2019.A senior U.S. official said the two nations are having “very close” and “very vigorous conversations.” Another official said Britain has not told the U.S. about the final decision.  The U.S. says Huawei could provide China a “back door” for spying, a claim that Huawei rejects.  In a Friday phone call with Johnson, U.S. President Donald Trump told the British Prime Minister that giving Huawei the go-ahead would cause a major rift in transatlantic relations and jeopardize intelligence-sharing between Washington and London.U.S. officials have also voiced frustration with decisions by some European nations to grant Huawei some access in the roll-out of their 5G network.“They announced a toolkit that many of us consider to be inadequate,” a senior U.S. official said, referring to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s “no-spy” pact from Huawei as she decided to allow the Chinese telecom company to take part in Germany’s 5G roll-out.Under the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2020, the U.S. Defense Secretary should brief Congressional defense committees by March 15 on the implementation of a plan for fifth generation information and communications technologies, including steps to work with U.S. allies and partners to protect critical networks and supply chains. 

Europe Tour Boosts Venezuela’s Guaido in Struggle Against Maduro

Efforts by Venezuelan parliamentary leader Juan Guaido to garner European support to unseat president Nicolas Maduro revealed divisions among EU governments as the United States ramped up pressures on Venezuela last week.It was Guaido’s first European visit since he proclaimed himself Venezuela’s acting president a year ago with support from the United States and most Latin American countries, which have backed repeated uprisings that failed to gain support from Venezuela’s military.Nicolas Maduro’s leftist government has managed to remain in power with security assistance from Cuba, Russia and Iran, according to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who met with Guaido at an Anti-Terrorist Summit in Colombia from where he flew to Europe.While most EU member states have recognized Guaido as Venezuela’s interim president and denounced Maduro’s human rights violations, they have refrained from implementing the type of wider sanctions imposed by President Donald Trump who has left open the use of military force.A U.S. airborne unit has conducted joint exercises with Colombian forces along a border region with Venezuela over recent days, according to the Pentagon. Venezuela’s government claims to have intercepted a U.S. warship near its coast.Since leaving Venezuela, Guaido’s offices in Caracas have been raided and several of his top aides arrested by Venezuelan police officials, who accuse him of violating restrictions they imposed on his travel.The leader of Venezuela’s political opposition Juan Guaido addresses the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Jan. 23, 2020.Guaido urged tougher measures against Maduro in personal meetings with European leaders and in an address to the annual world community conference in Davos, Switzerland.German Chancellor Angela Merkel and prime ministers from the Netherlands, Austria and Greece talked briefly with Guaido on the sidelines of the Davos conference, where his staff set up a workshop to promote Venezuela’s reconstruction.”We are confronted with an international criminal conglomerate and we can’t fight it alone,” he told the conference. “We need tools from the international community to bring pressure on the regime from various centers,” he said.Guaido specifically asked officials and bankers gathered in Davos to block Venezuela’s international trade in gold extracted from mines which, he said, Maduro has turned over to key army generals to secure their loyalty.Guaido’s tour got off to a promising start with a surprise welcome from British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who received him under the glow of cameras at 10 Downing Street. French President Emmanuel Macron met him more privately at the Elysee Palace.But momentum was lost in Spain, where Socialist Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez failed to meet Guaido citing scheduling problems. He instead sent a newly appointed foreign minister to see him away from government premises.The awkwardness was exacerbated by revelations that a chief Spanish minister had secretly met Maduro’s vice president, Delcy Rodriguez, when she stopped at Madrid’s airport on her way to Turkey some days earlier.Conservative opposition leaders accused the government of violating existing EU sanctions that include entry restrictions of Maduro’s top officials. The U.S. State Department also issued a strong protest.Spain is especially important to Venezuela because of its deep economic, political and cultural ties to its former colony. Venezuela’s political leverage has grown recently with the inclusion of members of the far-left party Podemos in Sanchez’s cabinet.Sanchez has advocated a “dialogue” to resolve Venezuela’s crisis and his ex-foreign minister Josep Borrell, who is now EU chief of external affairs, has worked to promote negotiations with Maduro.An  EU communique following a meeting between Guaido and Borrell in Brussels said the two “have signaled the urgent necessity to find a common focus as much between the Venezuelan actors as with the international community which could lead to a significant political process.”  Guaido said in Madrid that EU-backed mediation efforts had been “degraded by the dictatorship” in Bogota, which was using them to “gain time.” 

Prince Andrew Called Uncooperative in Jeffrey Epstein Probe

Britain’s Prince Andrew has provided “zero cooperation” to the American investigators who want to interview him as part of their sex trafficking probe into Jeffrey Epstein, a U.S. prosecutor said Monday.Speaking at a news conference outside Epstein’s New York mansion, U.S. Attorney Geoffrey Berman said prosecutors and the FBI had contacted Andrew’s lawyers and asked to interview him.”To date, Prince Andrew has provided zero cooperation,” said Berman, the top federal prosecutor in Manhattan.The Associated Press has asked Buckingham Palace for comment.Andrew announced last year that he was withdrawing from his royal duties amid renewed public attention on a woman’s claim that she had several sexual encounters with the prince at Epstein’s behest, starting when she was 17.FILE – A combination photo of the front-pages of British newspapers on Nov. 21, 2019, headlining the scandal surrounding Britain’s Prince Andrew.Virginia Roberts Giuffre says that after meeting Epstein in Florida in 2000, the millionaire flew her around the world and pressured her into having sex with numerous older men, including Andrew, two senior U.S. politicians, a noted academic, wealthy financiers and the attorney Alan Dershowitz, who is now part of President Donald Trump’s impeachment defense team.All of those men have denied the allegations. Epstein killed himself in his jail cell last summer while he was awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.Giuffre has said she had sex with Andrew three times, including once in London in 2001 at the home of Epstein’s girlfriend, Ghislaine Maxwell.Andrew and Maxwell have both denied any knowledge that Epstein was sexually abusing teenage girls. In a TV interview last fall, Andrew insisted he was out having pizza with his children on the night Giuffre says they were together in London.U.S. Attorney General William Barr has vowed to aggressively investigate and bring charges against anyone who may have helped Epstein.Andrew, in the statement he released in November announcing his intention to “step back from public duties,” said he regretted his “ill-judged association with Jeffrey Epstein.””Of course, I am willing to help any appropriate law enforcement agency with their investigations, if required,” he wrote.Berman made his remarks about the case during a joint appearance with members of Safe Horizon, a nonprofit victim services agency, to discuss a new New York law that made it easier for people to sue over childhood sexual abuse.He wouldn’t discuss the Epstein investigation in detail but reiterated that the case didn’t end with his death.”Jeffrey Epstein couldn’t have done what he did without the assistance of others, and I can assure you that the investigation is moving forward,” Berman said.Numerous women who said they were sexually abused by Epstein as teenagers have claimed in lawsuits and interviews that he got help recruiting young girls from both Maxwell and several assistants.Giuffre’s lawyers have, for months, been calling on Andrew to agree to be interviewed both by investigators and by the lawyers helping the women with those civil lawsuits.Two guards who were supposed to be monitoring Epstein the night he was found dead have been charged with falsifying the jail’s log books to indicate they were performing checks on prisoners, when they were actually sleeping or browsing the internet.
 

Greece Rebuffs Turkish Demands to Demilitarize Aegean Islands

Greece is pushing back against Turkish demands that it demilitarize 16 Aegean islands. The Turkish government maintains it is defending Turkey’s rights and remains committed to negotiation, but analysts warn Turkey’s increasingly “robust diplomacy” threatens to isolate Ankara and escalate regional tensions.  “Greece does not provoke, does not violate the sovereign rights of others, but it doesn’t like to see its own rights violated,” said Greek Defense Minister Nikos Panagiotopoulos Saturday.FILE – In this June 26, 2019 file photo, Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar, center left, arrives to NATO headquarters in Brussels.Turkish Defense Minister Hulusi Akar on Wednesday accused Greece of keeping troops on the islands in violation of the 1936 Treaty of Lausanne, which governs the Aegean Sea between Turkey and Greece.  The dispute dates to 1974 when Athens started to militarize the islands off the Turkish coast in response to Turkey’s invasion of the Mediterranean island of Cyprus after a pro-Greek coup.Akar’s focus on the dispute is widely seen as part of a broader policy. “Turkey is asking today for the islands’ demilitarization, when there [is] an incredible historical increase of Turkish jets violating Greek airspace,” said political scientist Cengiz Aktar of the University of Athens.”It’s a message Turkey is an aggressive force in the eastern Mediterranean, and Turkey gives the impression it wants a hot conflict with its neighbor, Greece.”Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan addresses his ruling party’s legislators, in Ankara, Jan. 14, 2020.Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan further ratcheted up tensions, announcing that Turkish research ships will be deployed in contested Cypriot waters to search for hydrocarbons.  The discovery of large natural gas fields in the eastern Mediterranean by Israel and Cyprus has unleashed a scramble by regional countries for the fossil fuel.  Ankara accuses Greece and other regional countries of seeking to shut it out of the believed bounty of vast energy reserves.”We won’t let anyone violate our rights in any way. This is not a threat,” said Akar Wednesday, adding, “It’s not a weakness to say that we want good relations with our neighbor.””The strategy that Turkey is following is it should protect its legitimate rights in the Mediterranean,” said former Turkish Ambassador Mithat Rende. “The strategy is to have an equitable solution to the matter. And Turkey has made it clear it’s ready to talk.”The policy of diplomacy, backed by strength, however, appears to be backfiring. Athens is looking to its European Union partners to push back against Ankara.FILE – German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a weekly cabinet meeting at the Chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Dec. 18, 2019.On Friday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks in Istanbul with Erdogan in a bid to shore up Turkey’s commitment to the migrant deal.Given the EU’s limited ability to rein in Turkey, which has the largest navy and air force in the region, analysts predict further muscle-flexing.”When you enter a policy of confrontation, you can’t step back; you are trapped; otherwise, you look weak,” said Aktar.But the Turkish government could well be calculating, that whatever the outcome of its policy, it will be a win.”I don’t think there will be a military clash,” said Sezer. “But, it’s a risk. It’s a dangerous situation, the longer it goes on. But this would be an opportunity for the government because it will prove to the people all those countries in the region are real threats to Turkey,” he added.
 

Rio Residents Try to Bring Green to a Concrete Jungle

Ale Roque wanders the untamed orchard in Rio de Janeiro, pushing aside leaves to point out what she helped plant last year. “This is cacao, developing well … Look at this lime tree, it’s full … Lots and lots of tomato … That one’s acai …,” she says. It seems there’s always more. “Ginger… Avocado… Pineapple… Sweet potato.”She crouches toward a plump yam, and stops to make a mental note to pick it with the children she’s teaching to garden here and in several other spots in the community. In addition to providing free produce to residents, there’s another benefit: it’s markedly cooler in this blessed shade — a rarity in this part of the city, far from the sea breeze of Copacabana and Ipanema.
The scarce scrap of vacant land is just outside downtown on the slope of Providencia, Rio’s first favela, where working-class homes cram up against one another at slipshod angles and bullet holes attest to the presence of drug traffickers.This Jan.6, 2020 photo, shows an area where trees and plants were gardened by Ale Roque in Rio’s first favela Morro da Providencia, Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.It’s one of dozens of places where people are starting projects to create a greener version of a tree-starved urban landscape that contrasts with the verdant rainforest looming over the city. The activist group Catalytic Communities has mapped sustainable projects across the city, and is trying to foster a support network.
“There seems to be now, all of a sudden, in the last six months even, a growth in interest,” said Theresa Williamson, the group’s executive director.
Roque argues that if kids spend their waking days exposed only to alleys, bullets, empty drug capsules and trash, they’ll struggle to contribute good to the world. They need places to play and pick flowers.
“How are you going teach kids about Mother Nature if they don’t have contact with it?” says Roque, 49. “This could be happening in places all over the world, in other favelas, other little areas.”
Rio is famed for magnificent views of its coastal rainforest’s wild topography. Look outside the postcard, though, and there’s a picture of urban dystopia after decades of slapdash sprawl and government neglect. It’s said even the Christ the Redeemer statue, perched atop a jungle peak near the coast, has his back turned to most of the metropolis.
Whole neighborhoods have severed connections with the forest and, during Rio’s summer, residents feel the lack of greenery in their flesh.
The sun beats with discrimination, sparing leafy neighborhoods that tend to be affluent while punishing expanses of aluminum and asbestos roofs. Rio’s dense neighborhoods have among the least vegetation in Brazil; 80 of them have less than 1% tree cover, most in the industrial North Zone. Without shade or evapotranspiration, so-called “heat islands” make summer even more brutal.
This month, the city’s top temperatures breached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius), but people focus instead on “apparent temperature,” a measure that includes wind and humidity — “sensacao” — that spiked as high as 131 degrees (54.8 degrees C) on Jan. 11, just shy of the record.
In Rio’s North Zone, the Arara Park favela is so packed that a string of one-room shops were built over an open sewage canal. They’re brick kilns under the baking sun. Inside one, a beauty salon, Ingrid Rocha, 20, slouches beneath a whirring ceiling fan with another on the floor. Her air conditioning unit does nothing to cut the heat, so clients only show up after 4 p.m. That means Rocha, who’s pregnant, needs to work more than 12-hour days to hit her targets.
Deeper inside the favela, Luis Cassiano is sitting in a garden atop his home’s roof. As more and more houses cropped up over the last three decades, he felt the temperature rise to a point that became unbearable. The sun would set behind the far-off rainforest, but his home’s interior wouldn’t cool until after midnight.
Online research for a solution led him to install a green roof  — with bromeliads, succulents and a small, flowering quaresmeira tree — and he wants to do the same for neighbors. There’s an aesthetic bonus, too; the favela needs to mix some calming green into the scenery, he says, to offset the angry red of the homes’ bricks and the melancholic grey of their roofs.
So far he’s had few takers, but “if God wills, people will understand that it’s necessary and urgent and it will be a job that will be really useful,” he said, sitting in his rooftop garden just after midday. “I think people will, one day, really wind up joining. We’ll need it. Just look at the heat of all those roofs together!”
The nascent greening from such projects is a break with Rio’s recent past, according to Washington Fajardo, a visiting housing policy researcher at Harvard University. A Paris-inspired policy to plant shade trees fell by the wayside as modernism became Brazil’s reigning aesthetic. Lately, public works have resorted to palm trees that are resilient, but do little to reduce temperatures.
 
“To get a tree to grow in an urban environment requires irrigation, because pollution makes it much harder for a sapling to reach adulthood,”  Fajardo, the prior mayor’s special advisor on urban issues, said by phone from Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We knew how to do that better at the start of the 20th century than we do today, strangely.”
Rio’s public policy for green spaces trails far behind other cities including Seoul, Lisbon, Durban and Medellin, and even Brazilian state capitals like Recife and Belo Horizonte, according to Cecilia Herzog, president of Inverde, an organization that researches green infrastructure and urban ecology. So people are taking matters into their own hands, she added.
The city has begun paying attention. Rio this month started planting native tree species to create 25 “fresh islands” in the city’s West Zone.
Meantime, it’s only getting hotter in Brazil, as in the rest of the world. Its southeast region — where Rio is located — has recorded three of its steamiest five years on record since 2014.
The heat can be felt at a plaza in the Providencia favela, where, though it’s still morning and there’s hilltop wind, Ale Roque uses a towel to dab sweat from her forehead, upper lip and chin. The passion fruit and acelora trees she planted are starting to gain stature. Those and other saplings now receive water from a rudimentary irrigation system.
Later that day, it’ll grow even hotter as she teaches preteens to compost, which will entail lugging more than 10 loads of old soil up two flights of stairs to a home’s back patio.
Why does Roque endure the labor and the heat?
“I want to make the world green!” she says and laughs, then collects herself. “It’s because someone has to do it, truthfully that’s it. Someone has to do it.”    

Turkey Ends Rescue Efforts After Earthquake Toll Reaches 41

ELAZIG, TURKEY — Turkey called off rescue operations on Monday in eastern areas hit by Friday’s earthquake after emergency workers recovered the body of a final person they were searching for in a collapsed building, bringing the death toll to 41, authorities said.The magnitude 6.8 quake caused 37 deaths in Elazig province, about 550 km (340 miles) east of Ankara, and four in neighboring Malatya. More than 1,600 others were hurt, including 86 still being treated in hospitals, though none were in serious condition, the government said.Forty-five people had been rescued from under ruined buildings, Turkey’s Disaster and Emergency Authority (AFAD) said.Authorities have warned residents not to enter damaged buildings because of the danger of collapse and further aftershocks, leaving many without a home in a region where temperatures fell to -6C (21F) on Monday morning.Addressing reporters in Elazig, Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu said the government would provide financial support to those whose homes were damaged. Some 1,000 temporary homes would be built, and some schools and mosques were now being used as shelters, he added.Urbanization Minister Murat Kurum said authorities had started demolishing 22 damaged buildings in Elazig. Construction of some 2,000 new houses in the province was expected to be completed by year end, he added.Turkey has a history of powerful earthquakes. More than 17,000 people were killed in August 1999 when a 7.6 magnitude quake struck Izmit, a city southeast of Istanbul. In 2011, a quake in the eastern city of Van killed more than 500. 

France Urges US to Stay in Fight Against Islamists in Africa’s Sahel

France hopes “good sense” will prevail and the United States will not slash support for French military operations in West Africa, where groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State are expanding their foothold.Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian made the appeal as Defense Minister Florence Parly was due to meet U.S. counterparts on Monday to discuss the crisis in the Sahel, a band of scrubland south of the Sahara.
The Pentagon announced plans last year to withdraw hundreds of military personnel from Africa as it redirects resources to address challenges from China and Russia after two decades focused on counter-terrorism operations. Those cuts could deepen following an ongoing global troop review spearheaded by Defense Secretary Mark Esper.
The possibility has alarmed France, which relies on U.S. intelligence and logistics for its 4,500-strong mission in the Sahel. The deaths of 13 French soldiers in a helicopter crash during a combat mission in Mali in November increased France’s determination to secure more support in the zone.
France believes it is time to increase, not ease, pressure on militants to prevent “Islamic State from rebuilding in the Sahel,” a senior French Defense Ministry official told Reuters.
Parly will put her case on Monday to Esper and National Security Adviser Robert O’Brien.
“I hope they will be rational to keep this partnership … and that good sense will prevail,” le Drian told reporters.
The U.S. currently has 6,000 military personnel in Africa.
Although some experts say a repositioning of forces is overdue, many U.S. officials share French concerns about relieving pressure on militants in Africa.
“Any withdrawal or reduction would likely result in a surge in violent extremist attacks on the continent and beyond,” Republican Senator Lindsey Graham and Democrat Chris Coons wrote in a letter to Esper this month.
Former colonial power France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali the previous year.
Fighters have since regrouped and spread. Over the past year, militants have stepped up attacks in Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger.
Although groups in the Sahel are believed to have the intent to carry out attacks against the United States, they are not currently believed to have the capacity to do so, officials say.Scrambling drones
General Francois Lecointre, chief of staff of the French armed forces, told Reuters that the loss of U.S. intelligence from intercepted communications would be the “biggest setback.”
“I’m doing my utmost to prevent this from happening,” he said, adding that French drone-based spying systems would not be operational until year-end.
France said this month it would deploy 220 additional troops to the region, despite rising anti-French sentiment in some countries and criticism at home that its forces are bogged down.
Parly recently visited the Sahel with counterparts from Portugal, Sweden and Estonia to press European allies to do more, especially by contributing special forces to a new French-led unit due to be set up this year.
One of the main aims of the outfit, officials said, is to improve coordination between regional troops and French planes able to carry out air strikes.
So far, take-up has been limited with only Estonia committing 40 troops, while discussions continue with eight nations. Germany has refused to take part.