Leaders to bolster Sahel anti-terror force

Paris: France’s Emmanuel Macron on Wednesday hosted African and European leaders to drum up support and contributions for a new counter-terrorism force in the terror-plagued Sahel.
Two years in the planning, the force brings together troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a desert region the size of Europe.
The five nations are among the world’s poorest, and funding was high on the agenda as their presidents joined Macron and other leaders including Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel at a chateau in Celle-Saint-Cloud outside Paris.
Saudi Arabia has pledged $100 million, while the United Arab Emirates has offered $30 million, Macron said on Wednesday.
Former colonial power France is leading regional counterterrorism efforts through its 4,000-strong Barkhane force, but is keen to spread the burden as its military is engaged on various fronts.
The idea is for the Sahel nations to develop their capacity to defend themselves through the new force, but their militaries are poorly equipped and need training in the new role.
Macron —who has had a busy week of diplomacy after a climate summit on Tuesday — pushed US President Donald Trump for support when they met in July, and Washington has promised $60 million in aid for the countries.
“It’s an initiative that’s getting more powerful, but speed is a problem,” French Defence Minister Florence Parly told RFI radio. “We have to go faster,” she said. “The objective is to be able to move forward faster on financing and the military structure.”
US officials were attending Wednesday’s talks along with the prime ministers of Italy and Belgium and representatives of the United Arab Emirates, European Union and African Union.
The International Crisis Group described the G5 force as a European effort to “bring down the expense of their overseas operations by delegating them partially to their African partners”.
“The Sahel is politically and economically strategic, especially for France and Germany, both of which view the region as posing a potential threat to their own security and as a source of migration and terrorism,” it added in a report published on Tuesday.
The ambitious goal is to have a pooled force of 5,000 local troops operational by mid-2018, wresting back border areas from extremists including a local Al Qaeda affiliate.
Priority number one is to re-establish law and order in the border zone between Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger where several hundred soldiers, backed by French troops, carried out last month’s debut mission.
The task is daunting, not least because the extremists enjoy a degree of support in areas where people’s experience of the state has often been one of inefficacy or outright abuse of power. Across the region, thousands have died in years of attacks, and tens of thousands have fled their homes.
Troops have also been a frequent target, including an assault in Niger on October 4 which killed four US soldiers and another two weeks later in which 21 Niger troops died. — AFP