Ouagadougou (AFP) - A new five-nation force is ready to deploy to fight jihadists in the Sahel region of northwestern Africa, Niger's defence minister said on Sunday.
The G5 Sahel counter-terrorist force aims to fight armed extremist groups that have carried out deadly attacks across the region.
Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger agreed last year to set up the 5,000-strong force.
They will operate alongside thousands of French and UN forces already deployed in the region along the southern rim of the Sahara desert.
"We are ready to launch operations in the sense that all forces that make up the G5 Sahel are in place," the minister, Kalla Moutari, said in Ouagadougou.
Defence ministers from the five countries were gathered in the Burkina Faso capital to formally finalise steps to bring the force up to its full strength.
"We have put in place the legal documents that govern the operations of this force on our territories," Moutari said.
"It is now only a matter of timing, which will depend on the discretion of the military leaders."
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last week urged the G5 countries to speed up the deployment.
The Sahel force was projected to be fully up and running in March but that deadline was missed, mainly because of problems with training and equipment, he said in a report to the UN Security Council.