G5 Sahel summit gets under way
Leaders of five Sahel countries met with France's defence minister on Tuesday to discuss funding for an unprecedented joint force to combat jihadism in their vulnerable region.
The presidents of the so-called G5 Sahel nations -- Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- met with French Defence Minister Florence Parly, whose country is the initiative's major backer.
On Sunday, Malian Defence Minister Tieman Hubert Coulibaly said the G5 force "will be operational by the end of March."
The five countries, along with Nigeria and Cameroon, are at the brunt of jihadist attacks in west Africa that have left thousands dead, unleashed a humanitarian crisis and sapped economies that are already among the poorest the world.
The goal is to have a pooled force of 5,000 men by mid-2018 that would patrol hotspots and restore authority in lawless areas.
It would operate alongside France's 4,000 troops, deployed across the Sahel, and the UN's 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Two G5 operations have taken place so far with French support, unfolding in the troubled "tri-border" area between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. The force has also set up a headquarters, located in Sevare, Mali.
But funding to secure long-term operations, provide training and acquire modern equipment is a major concern.
So far, 294 million euros ($360 million) has been pledged, led by 100 million euros committed by Saudi Arabia.
Another round of funding talks takes place in Brussels on February 23.