United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday, September 3 again pushed for the U.N. to help fund a regional counter-insurgency force in the Sahel, warning “we are not winning the war against terrorism” in the region.
“I am in favor of funding by the United Nations, with obligatory contributions for the G5 Sahel force,” Guterres said in an interview with Radio France Internationale.
“I totally believe we are not winning the war against terrorism in the Sahel and that the operation should be strengthened.”
An insurgency by Islamist militants, some linked to Islamic State and al-Qaeda, on the Sahara’s southern rim, has rocked the impoverished states of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Niger.
Those countries, along with Mauritania, launched the G5 Sahel in 2014 to improve cooperation on development and security, and the following year the five nations began work on the G5 Sahel Joint Force, a counter-terrorism initiative which was spearheaded by France, the colonial power in the region.
According to a March 2018 NATO report, the G5 Sahel joint force aims to maintain seven battalions, each consisting of 550 soldiers plus 100 police or gendarmes, for a total of 4,550.
Troops will work alongside personnel deployed to the 4,500-strong France-led Operation Barkhane counter-terror mission in the Sahel, as well as the the U.N.’s third-largest peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA in Mali, which has about 14,000 personnel deployed.
Lack of training, poor equipment and a chronic lack of funds have undermined the G5 Sahel Joint Force initiative.
Despite international pledges of hundreds of millions of dollars in financial support, funds have been slow to arrive, although in July the European Union announced €138 million in additional funding for the G5 Sahel Joint Force. The bloc had previously given a total of €115.6 million and said in July 2018 that the E.U. would finance the construction of a new headquarters in Mali.
Guterres said Tuesday he expected countries to make “concrete proposals” to the international community during a forthcoming West African meeting in Ouagadougou.
The G5 Sahel leaders have repeatedly called for a mandate under Chapter VII of the U.N. Charter – measures which could authorize the use of sanctions or military intervention in situations where peace and security is threatened.
Guterres has long pledged to pursue support for the G5 Sahel Joint Force. The Secretary-General, as well as former colonial power France, has lobbied for regular U.N. funding, but the U.S. has pushed back against direct funding.
Many Security Council members at a May meeting called for “predictable” U.N. funding, but then-U.S. Deputy Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said bilateral assistance remains the best way to support the Joint Force. The U.S. has also resisted new U.N. funding for peacekeeping initiatives led by African organizations.
Niger’s President Mahamadou Issoufou said in July that “Niger will use its position as a non-permanent member of the Security Council, from 2020” to push for U.N. funding for the Joint Force.
“Failing that, what we are proposing is that there should be an international coalition of countries to fight terrorism in the Sahel, just as there was a coalition against Daesh in the Middle East,” he said.
State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Ambassador Nathan Sales Sales said a Global Coalition Against ISIS meeting on the situation in West Africa and the Sahel is set for autumn.
With reporting from AFP