West Africa: France Seeks UN Backing to Fight Jihadists in West Africa
Photo: UN, UN mission in Mali
France on Tuesday asked the UN Security Council to authorize the deployment of a five-nation African military force to fight jihadists in the Sahel region.
A draft resolution circulated to the 15-member council would give the Sahel force a UN mandate to “use all necessary means” to “combat terrorism, drug trafficking and trafficking in persons,” according to the text obtained by AFP.
The Security Council could vote on the draft resolution as early as next week, diplomats said.
Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger — which make up the G5 — agreed in March to set up the special counter-terrorism operation of 5,000 troops for the Sahel region [West Africa].
The force will have its headquarters in Mali, but will be under a separate command from the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA, which has been deployed in the country since 2013.
French Ambassador Francois Delattre said he expected the council to back the measure, drafted under chapter 7 of the UN charter, which provides for the use of force.
“We cannot afford to let the Sahel region become a new safe haven for terrorists from across the region,” he told reporters.
The draft resolution would authorize the deployment of the force of up to 5,000 military, police and civilian personnel for an initial period of 12 months.
The force will operate in border areas and work to “create a secure environment by eradicating the actions of the terrorist armed groups and other organized criminal groups,” the draft said.
UN logistical, financial support
France carried out a military intervention in Mali in 2013 to drive out jihadist groups, some of which were linked to Al-Qaeda, which had seized key cities in the country’s north.
Although the Islamists have been largely ousted from the north, jihadist groups continue to mount attacks on civilians and UN forces in violence that has engulfed parts of central Mali.
West Africa: EU Commits U.S.$50 Million to Combat Terrorism in West Africa
By Diana Fong
The vast Sahel region south of the Sahara is a breeding ground for terrorism, since security gaps between territories loom large. EU funding aims to enhance regional cooperation against jihadist terrorists and druglords.
The European Union is funding 50 million euros ($56 million) to fight terrorism in the vast West African Sahel region south of the Sahara desert that is a breeding ground for jihadists. Some militants have ties to al Qaeda and so-called Islamic State (IS) in a terrorist hot spot that has been dubbed the “arc of instability.”
EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini released a statement on Monday during a visit to Bamako, the capital of Mali.
“The stability and development of the Sahel region are crucial, not only for Africa but also for Europe. We are neighbors and what happens on one of our continents has an impact on the other,” Mogherini said at the annual conference of EU representatives and the five francophone countries known as the Sahel G-5.
Those countries are Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger. At a summit in the Chadian capital of N’Djamena in November 2015, the G-5 agreed to create a multi-lateral force in the region to combat terrorism.
“The idea is for regional forces to improve their cooperation in tackling jihadist terrorism, since terrorist attacks go beyond national frontiers,” said Paul Melly, a fellow of the Africa program at the London-based think tank Chatham House.
“In the long term it’s a building block for the day when the UN forces and potentially the French deployment in Sahel are withdrawn in several years time. The hope is by that stage the Sahel countries will have a strong enough military capacity of their own,” Melly said in an interview with DW.
The EU force is expected to become operational at the end of this year and will reinforce the French and UN peacekeeping troops already stationed in the region.
Development aid spending much higher
France has already deployed about 4,000 troops across the five G-5 countries since January 2013 when Islamist insurgents who had hijacked a Tuereg-led rebellion in the north of Mali attacked civilians and security forces. Although French efforts to drive out the militants were successful, the UN mission still remains under threat from sporadic attacks that have left over 100 peacekeepers dead over the past four years. Furthermore, the violence has spread into other parts of Mali in the south and has spilled over into neighboring countries such as Burkina Faso, Niger and Ivory Coast.
The EU funding however is a drop in the bucket compared to the 1.8 billion euros the bloc is already investing in development aid for the region. Poverty and harsh environmental conditions in the vast arid region has made the Sahel countries particularly vulnerable to terrorism as well as narcotics smuggling.
“It is a great place for terrorism and drug trafficking to develop. The borders are not well-controlled. The area is huge. Just Mali alone is three times the size of France,” said Remi Hemeryck, director-general of SOS Sahel, a grassroots NGO organization that seeks to tackle the root causes of poverty and food insecurity in the region.
“It makes sense for all the states to coordinate efforts for protecting civilians and organizations working in development, but at the same time it is necessary to invest in social and economic development, too. The 50 million euros may be a beginning for better coordination between the G-5 countries. It is important not to leave gaps between the territories,” he added.
Just last week France retaliated against some 20 Islamist militants and killed them after several French peacekeepers in a UN camp in the north of Mali had been wounded by a mortar attack.
Underscoring the importance of security and coordinated efforts for the Sahel region, French President Emmanuel Macron paid a visit to Mali in May shortly after taking office. It was his first official trip outside Europe. Macron called on other European countries, including Germany, to provide additional military assistance and development aid.