The funding for the multinational G5 operation in West Africa's Sahel region is designed to stop Islamist insurgencies. The broader plan is to stop people having to leave the region.
At a donor conference in Brussels on Friday, 50 countries were represented to discuss funding for the new G5 Sahel regional force with the aim of making it fully operational this year with 5,000 personnel from seven battalions. The force is also to engage in humanitarian and development work.
"This is not about charity, this is a partnership," Federica Mogherini, the EU's top diplomat told reporters in Brussels. EU funding is to double to €100 million ($123 million) for the G5 Sahel force, made up of troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania. The force needs €400 million euros and, later on Friday, Mogherini said €414 million had been pledged.
The total "goes far beyond our initial expectations," Mogherini said.
Saudi Arabia has led contributions to the G5 so far with €100 million while the United Arab Emirates has given €30 million and the US $60 million.
Urgent security action
Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou said there was an urgent need for action: "We have to act resolutely to change the face of the Sahel region or risk seeing this region of the world fall irreversibly into chaos and violence." Otherwise, he said, many people in the Sahel had only a choice to die in the Mediterranean trying to reach Europe or to die at the hands of militants.
The force is also to tackle smuggling and illegal immigration networks in the Sahel.
Two French soldiers were killed in Mali earlier this week when their vehicle hit a mine. France has more than 4,000 troops in the region. A former colonial power in Africa, France is also set to increase by 40 percent to 1.2 billion euros its funding of development in the region over the next five years.
France has complained in the past that it is the only EU state with combat troops on the ground, although others, including Germany, have deployed training personnel. However, officials in Paris denied the government was seeking an exit strategy for Operation Barkhane, its own anti-jihadi mission in the region. The UN has a 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Operational within months
The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy said the EU was spending €8 billion in development aid to the region over eight years. "Peace has no price, peace is made with financial support," Mogherini said.
A headquarters and command structure have been set up and the G5 Sahel force has carried out two operations, with French support, in the area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet.
"We expect in 2018 that we will be delivering more in terms of body armor, counter-IED material, trucks and even a hospital which will be built, we think, in Mali later this year," an EU official told AFP.
jm/ng (AFP, Reuters)