G5 Sahel leaders again call for UN assistance to fund Joint Force

The US has previously opposed UN funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force designed to counter insurgency in the region

Five nations waging a battle against militants in Africa’s Sahel region again asked for United Nations funding and other aid to help tackle the cross-border jihadist insurgency which claimed more lives even as officials met.

Leaders of the G5 Sahel – Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – gathered in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou on Tuesday, Wednesday 5, seeking to beef up the battle against jihadists who have killed hundreds of civilians and security personnel and inflicted crippling economic damage.

In the latest incidents in northern Burkina Faso, five security personnel were killed in what the army called a “terrorist” attack at Oursi add link to other unpublished story on Tuesday, a day after an attack in Yatenta province left left 14 civilians dead.

At the close of a one-day meeting, the five leaders in a statement renewed their “concern” over the situation, and called for “closer cooperation between the G5 Sahel and the United Nations.”

This should include assistance to the G5 Sahel joint military force under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter, which can authorize measures to help a country “which finds itself confronted with special economic problems” arising from “prevention and enforcement measures” aimed at safeguarding peace, they said.

Chapter 7 empowers the Security Council to “determine the existence of any threat to the peace, breach of the peace, or act of aggression” and to take military action to “restore international peace and security.”

The president of summit host Burkina Faso, Roch Marc Christian Kabore, also asked for “redoubling efforts to accelerate the strengthening of the joint force.”

Mahamadou Issoufou, president of Niger, told reporters there was a need to find “a permanent mechanism to finance” the Joint Force under the U.N. Charter’s Chapter 7.

The G5, he added, “reaffirmed its determination and its willingness to continue the fight against terrorism with all means necessary: militarily, economically – because poverty is the fertile ground in which terrorism thrives – and also ideologically.”

In their joint statement, the heads of state said a military force can never be the only solution, and urged the international community “to support the G5 Sahel’s efforts” to secure and develop the region.

The five countries are among the world’s poorest. Donors pledged €2.4 billion for around 40 development program for the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme for 2019-2021 at a December conference.

Burkina Faso soldier
A Burkina Faso soldier during exercise Flintlock 2017, February 28, 2017. Image: Spc Britany Slessman, 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne)

UN funding proposals opposed by the US

U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres has pledged to pursue support for the G5 Sahel Joint Force. Guterres, as well as France, has lobbied for regular U.N. funding, in addition to support already agreed by the Security Council in December 2017, when it authorized Minusma to provide some assistance to the Joint Force in Mali.

But the United States has pushed back against U.N. funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force, and for African Union-led peacekeeping missions. U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration has taken a harder line on U.N. funding in general, cutting contributions and pushing for cost-saving reforms. It is also seeking to streamline peacekeeping operations to reduce costs and make them more effective.

In May, the U.S. said it opposed a Security Council mandate for the Joint Force as well as direct U.N. funding, and in November, a U.S. Africa Command spokesperson told The Defense Post that, despite almost doubling U.S. assistance to the G5 Sahel Joint Force member states to almost $111 million, that support takes the form of “bilateral security cooperation efforts,” rather than direct funding for the Joint Force.

At a Security Council meeting in November, U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said it was “premature” to decide on regular U.N. funding for African missions, citing ongoing questions about human rights and troop misconduct, and in December, the U.S. proposed 11 conditions for the financing of future African Union-led peacekeeping operations, pushing the deadline for a decision to December 2019.

However, Washington D.C. National Guard soldiers and airmen will start a partnership with the Armed Forces of Burkina Faso this month during the annual Exercise Flintlock drills with U.S. allies in the Sahel. This year’s iteration of the major multi-national military exercise will take place in multiple locations in Burkina Faso and Mauritania. It begins on February 18 in Burkina Faso and concludes on March 1.

Niger Army patrol leader
A Niger Army patrol leader signals to his soldiers during training as part of Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, March 3, 2017. Image: US Army Sgt. 1st Class Christopher C. Klutts

A joint force for troubled Sahel states

The Islamist insurgency in the Sahel began after chaos engulfed Libya in 2011. Exploiting a Tuareg separatist uprising in Mali, extremists linked to al-Qaeda took key cities in the desert north.

France began its Operation Serval military intervention in its former colony early the next year, driving the jihadists from the towns, but the militant groups morphed into more nimble formations operating in rural areas, sometimes winning over local populations by providing basic services and protection from bandits.

The insurgency has gradually spread to central and southern regions of Mali, and across the borders into neighboring Burkina Faso and Niger, while Chad is affected by the surge in Boko Haram attacks along its border with Nigeria.

The G5 Sahel was launched in 2014 to improve cooperation on development and security. The five nations began work in 2015 on the G5 Sahel Joint Force, a counter-terrorism initiative which was spearheaded by France, the colonial power in the region.

A June 2017 U.N. Security Council resolution called for international support, and the force launched a month later with a mandate to combat terrorism, transnational organized crime and human trafficking, but lack of funding and shortfalls in equipment and training have led to delays in its operations.

According to a March 2018 report by NATO Strategic Direction – South, the force aims to maintain seven battalions – two from both Mali and Niger, and one each from Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. Each battalion consists of 550 soldiers plus 100 police or gendarmes, for a total of 4,550.

Troops will work alongside the roughly 4,500 French personnel deployed to Operation Barkhane which has a mandate for counter-terrorism operations across the region, as well as the the U.N.’s third-largest peacekeeping mission, Minusma in Mali, which has about 12,000 troops and 1,750 police deployed.

But lack of funding and training, as well as poor equipment, have greatly undermined the initiative. The Joint Force has received €100 million in financial support from the E.U., but the vast majority of around €420 million ($478 million) that was pledged at an international donor conference in Brussels in February 2018 has not been fulfilled, France’s Minister of the Armed Forces Florence Parly said in November.

Last June, the Joint Force’s headquarters in Sevare, Mali were hit by a devastating suicide bomb and gun attack claimed by the Support Group for Islam and Muslims (JNIM), which has pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.

The European Union said in July that it would finance the construction of a new headquarters in Mali, and its new commander, Mauritanian general Hanena Ould Sidi said in September that G5 Sahel Joint Force headquarters will move to Mali’s capital Bamako.

The G5’s problems have given rise to long periods of apparent inactivity, although on Sunday, Hanena Ould Sidi, said the force had carried out three operations since January 15 without giving details.

With reporting from AFP

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