European leaders boost Sahel anti-extremist funding

Sat, 2018-02-24 03:00

BRUSSELS: European leaders on Friday doubled their funding for a force tackling extremist militants in the Sahel, but African leaders warned the money must come quickly if it is to be effective.
The EU announced an extra $61 million for the G5 Sahel force at a conference in Brussels with heads of state from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, taking total pledges by international donors to over $504 million.
But just a fraction of that money is currently available to spend and Niger President Mahamadou Issoufou, the current chair of the G5 Sahel group, said it was needed urgently to deal with an influx of Daesh fighters driven out of Libya and Syria.
The chaos in Libya, where rival militias, tribes and terrorists are vying for influence, is fueling instability in the Sahel, Issoufou and African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat warned, calling for an international push to bring peace to the oil-rich state.
“The Libyan crisis has been, we know, the detonator of the degradation of the security situation in the Sahel, and day after day, it contributes to its amplification,” said Issoufou.
“We must put an end to this chaos by restoring the authority of the Libyan state to the whole of its territory.”
Friday’s meeting was attended by 32 leaders including French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Foreign Minister Adel Al-Jubeir also took part, after Saudi Arabia pledged $100 million to the G5 force in December.
“We are ready to provide anti-terrorism assistance in the African Sahel region,” he said later, in a speech in Brussels.
The meeting observed a minute’s silence in honor of two soldiers from France’s counter-terror force in West Africa who were killed in a mine blast on Wednesday.
It was the latest in a surge of attacks underscoring the challenge facing the five countries, among the poorest in the world, which are on the frontline of a war against Islamist militants.
Europe hopes that spending money to improve the security and economic situation in the region will help stem the flow of migrants seeking a better life across the Mediterranean and prevent the Sahel becoming a springboard for extremist attacks on the West. The G5 force aims to train and equip 5,000 local troops to patrol hotspots and restore authority in lawless areas. As well as fighting militants, the force also tackles smuggling and illegal immigration networks that operate in the vast, remote areas on the margins of the Sahara.
“Daesh fighters driven out of Libya and Syria are taking refuge in the Sahel, especially from Libya, so it’s urgent the pledged funds are mobilized as quickly as possible,” Mahamadou said.
The force has so far set up a headquarters and command structure and carried out two operations, with French support, in the troubled “tri-border” area where Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso meet.
It is intended to become fully operational in mid-2018, and to operate alongside France’s 4,000 troops in the area as well as the UN’s 12,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping operation in Mali.
Mahamat said extremist groups would likely step up attacks in Mali as the G5 force geared up, warning “they’re not going to sit back with their arms crossed.”
Recent operations against militants in northern Mali have left around 30 rebels dead, Macron said, vowing “total determination” to defeat the threat.
Opening the conference, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said “security and development must go hand in hand” in the Sahel, an area almost as big as the EU where a fifth of the population do not have reliable food supplies.
The bloc has budgeted nearly $9.8 billion for development assistance in the Sahel from 2014 to 2020, while France pledged $1.5 billion over the next five years and Germany $2 billion.
The EU’s diplomatic chief Federica Mogherini said more pledges from individual countries were expected, saying “the price of not having peace has to be paid every day.”

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