Friday 24 November 2017

Why are Sahel countries deploying an anti-jihad force?

Why are Sahel countries deploying an anti-jihad force?
(AFP 10/31/17)

The UN Security Council looked at ways of shoring up a new G5 Sahel regional counter-terrorism force on Monday, with France seeking UN funding and support for the fight against jihad in Africa.

What are the origins of the force to number up to 5,000 troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, and why is it needed?

- Why now? -

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger -- the so-called "G5 Sahel" countries just south of the Sahara -- first raised the idea of a regional force in November 2015 in Chad's capital, N'Djamena.

The idea resurfaced in the light of the deteriorating security situation in Mali, and following mounting incidents of jihadist violence in neighbouring Burkina Faso and Niger.

The vast Sahel region has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Earlier this month, militants with suspected links to the Islamic State group ambushed and killed four US soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol with Nigerien soldiers near the Niger-Mali border.

- What is the force's mandate? -

The force is expected to deploy up to 5,000 military, police and civilian personnel for an initial period of 12 months, and is led by General Didier Dacko, a former chief of the Malian army.

Its activities will be initially confined to Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, where weak central governments have little reach in isolated areas, and tensions between nomadic herding communities and farmers have led to recent bloody clashes.

In the early days of the force's existence, strategy will be centred on "taking back control of border areas", according to Dacko, with banditry, jihadists and human traffickers all targeted.

- What about the existing foreign forces? -

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.

It is also separate to, but will complement, the work of France's own 4,000-strong military presence in the Sahel, known as the Barkhane force.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has put forward four options to back the force, including setting up a United Nations support office in the Sahel and sharing resources from the 13,000-strong peacekeeping mission in Mali.

He has recommended extra financial backing for equipment including heavily reinforced vehicles and observation capacities, including drones, and "close cooperation" between any G5 force and Barkhane.

- How will the Sahel force be funded? -

The United States will pledge $60 million (51.50 million euros) to support the new force, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced on Monday, ahead of the UN talks.

The European Union has already promised 50 million euros, with diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini citing stability of the Sahel region as "crucial not only for Africa but also for Europe".

France -- the force's main backer in the Security Council -- wants donors to step up, but is also looking to the United Nations to offer logistic and financial support to the joint force as it begins operations in the coming days.

The United States however, is adamant that while it is ready to provide bilateral funding, there should be no UN support for the force.

The price tag for the G5 force's first year of operations is estimated at 423 million euros ($491 million), even though French officials say the budget can be brought down closer to 250 million euros.

Before the US pledge, only 108 million euros have been raised, including 50 million euros from the five countries themselves. A donor conference will be held in Brussels on December 14.

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