by Carole LANDRY/AFP
3 minute read
30 Oct 2017
8:30 pm

US pledges $60 million to Sahel force but balks at UN role

by Carole LANDRY/AFP

The United States on Monday pledged $60 million to shore up a Sahel region counter-terrorism force but resisted appeals from African leaders and France to give the United Nations a supporting role.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson announced the bilateral funding as the Security Council met to discuss how to drum up international support to the force set up by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger, known as the “G5”.

“This is a fight we must win, and these funds will play a key role in achieving that mission,” Tillerson said in a statement.

Washington has previously expressed support for the force, and has troops and drone operators in the region backing operations against Islamist militants, but it is wary of United Nations involvement.

“We believe that the G5 force must be first and foremost owned by the countries of the region themselves,” US Ambassador Nikki Haley told the council, adding that G5 members must take on “full regional ownership” of the force.

“This is the approach that will be most effective in the end in freeing the region of terror,” said Haley.

She rejected proposals to allow the large UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, to help the joint force, saying its already-strained resources must not be further overstretched.

Haley also appeared to dismiss a proposal by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to set up a UN office in the Sahel that could provide some oversight to the operations, notably to safeguard human rights.

“We also have serious and well-known reservations about using UN resources to support non-UN activity,” said Haley.

– No half-measures –

The foreign ministers of France and Mali, as well as African Union Commission chairman Moussa Faki Mahamat appealed for multilateral aid to help the countries bolster their security.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said multilateral backing would be “an important signal of support from the international community to the G5 countries in their struggle against terrorist organizations.”

Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop said funding through the United Nations would be “the only option that would guarantee a predictable and sustainable” flow of resources for the force’s joint operations, which are due to begin in days.

“Half-measures will not be sufficient,” warned Mahamat.

French diplomats insisted that the United States had not shut the door to UN support for the force, which would be outlined in a new UN draft resolution.

Speaking to reporters after the council meeting, Le Drian said a proposed resolution would spell out cooperation between MINUSMA and the G5.

France has deployed 4,000 troops in its own Operation Barkhane to combat jihadists in the Sahel region.

– Four UN options –

The vast Sahel region has turned into a hotbed of lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Earlier this month, militants with suspected links to the Islamic State group ambushed and killed four US soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol with Nigerien soldiers near the Niger-Mali border.

In a recent report to the council, Guterres laid out four options for UN support, including sharing resources from MINUSMA.

Washington’s refusal to lend UN backing for the Sahel force comes after the US administration negotiated a $600-million cut to the UN peacekeeping budget this year.

The United States is the UN’s number one financial contributor.

The price tag for the G5 force’s first year of operations is estimated at 423 million euros ($491 million), even though French officials say the budget can be brought down closer to 250 million euros.

Prior to the US pledge of $60 million, only 108 million euros had been raised, including 50 million euros from the five impoverished countries themselves. A donor conference will be held in Brussels on December 14.