31 October 2017

Central Africa: U.S. Pledges U.S.$60Million for Sahel Counterterror Force

Photo: Le Pays
Bombardment in a Niger village.

The United States has pledged up to $60 million to support counterterrorism efforts by nations in Africa's Sahel region.

The funding, announced Monday by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, will support the Group of Five Sahel Joint Task Force, a military unit set up by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger earlier this year.

"Defeating terrorism depends on making sure terrorist organizations cannot have safe havens on any continent," Tillerson said in a statement. "This money will bolster our regional partners in their fight to ensure security and stability in the face of ISIS and affiliated groups and other terrorist networks."

At a U.N. Security Council meeting about the Sahel Joint Task Force Monday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley made clear that the funding would be on a bilateral basis, subject to congressional approval, and not given through the United Nations, which is trying to establish sustained funding and assistance to the force.

"We believe that the G5 force must be, first and foremost, owned by the countries of the region themselves," Haley said, referring to the group of five African nations. "We also have serious and well-known reservations about using U.N. resources to support non-U.N. activities," she added.

In the coming weeks, the Security Council will discuss four options for U.N. support to the force to make its work fully operational. They range from expanding the mandate of the U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali – known as MINUSMA – to establishing a dedicated U.N. support office to deliver logistics and other soft support on a limited scope.

On December 14, the international community will meet in Brussels for a pledging conference to support the G5 force. The five countries are looking for a total of $490 million for the task force.

Mali's foreign minister Abdoulaye Diop welcomed the U.S. announcement, but said major powers could do more.

"We know that in some of the foreign operations, in some regions of the world which I don't want to say it, they can spend this money in just one day," Diop told reporters. "One could wonder why the Sahel is not also getting the attention while we are facing a similar threat."

He noted that a poor country like Niger is spending 70 percent of its gross domestic product on military expenses to combat terrorism and transnational criminal networks, while at the same time trying to improve the country's infrastructure, education and other services.

"We are also ready to play our part," Diop said. "We are taking risks; we are putting our soldiers at risk; we are putting our financial resources." But he noted that what is at stake is a global threat and the Sahel countries should not be expected to combat it on their own.

Earlier this month, fighters affiliated with Islamic State ambushed a team of U.S. and Nigerien troops in southwestern Niger. Four U.S. soldiers were killed and two others wounded in the attack.

Military officials have said the team was in the area to conduct surveillance on a terrorist leader.

Along with Islamic State, several al-Qaida-linked groups operate in the Sahel region, including al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Nigeria-based Boko Haram.

Chad and Niger have battled Boko Haram incursions for the past three years, while Mali saw jihadist groups take over the northern half of the country in 2012.

VOA's U.N. correspondent Margaret Besheer contributed to this report.

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