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UN approves Sahel counterterrorism force

June 21, 2017

The UN Security Council has approved an African counterterrorism force in the Sahel, but in a watered-down form due to US objections. The force will also fight arms, drugs and human trafficking.

Chadian troops participate in the closing ceremony of operation Flintlock in an army base in N'djamena, Chad
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/J. Delay

The UN Security Council on Wednesday unanimously adopted a resolution that greenlights a five-nation West African force to combat jihadis as well as arms, drugs and human traffickers in the Sahel region.

The resolution, drafted by France, "welcomes" the force of up to 5,000 military and police but falls short of fully authorizing it after the United States raised several objections.

Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger - known as the G5 - agreed in March to deploy a counterterrorism force in the region alongside the African Union and sought UN backing.

French UN envoy Francois Delattre said the resolution granted the force "maximum political support."

"At a time when terrorism is striking everywhere in the world, we cannot let the Sahel region become a new haven for terrorist organizations from the entire world," Delattre told the Security Council.

"It is our security which is at stake in the Sahel, not just the security of the G5 countries."

The European Union, and particularly France, are worried that uncontrolled areas in the Sahel fuel migrant trafficking and pose a direct jihadi threat to Europe.

Read more: Sahel trade routes: Arms, people and drugs  

US waters down resolution

The United States had argued that since the force will operate in the five troop contributing countries, it did not need a formal UN Security Council resolution that would have given the operation more teeth. 

Due to US objections, a reference to Chapter 7 of the UN Charter authorizing use of force was dropped. The US provides about a quarter of the UN peacekeeping budget of $7.9 billion (7.1 billion euros) and wants to cut its contributions, so the final resolution left open the issue of funding.

Read more: UN: Trump's budget would make UN peacekeeping 'simply impossible'

France had requested that UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres issue a report on the logistical and financial needs of the force, but that was dropped due to US objections. Instead, the resolution has weaker language requesting that Guterres report on "challenges encountered and possible measures for further consideration."

The European Union has already pledged 50 million euros ($56 million) to support the force.

The resolution calls for a donor conference to fund the force but says that the five African nations have a responsibility for providing troops with "with adequate resources."

Force complements French, UN missions

Speaking on behalf of the G5, Mali's UN Ambassador Sem Konofourou said the force will allow the West African countries "to pool their efforts and their means to effectively fight terrorism, organized crime and trafficking in persons, which nowadays is a true threat to international and regional peace and security."

The force is under a separate command but will complement the UN's 15,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali and the 4,000-strong French troop presence in the region, known as Barkhane. Germany participates in an EU training mission in southern Mali and has a mandate to contribute up to 1,000 troops in support of the UN mission. 

Fighting Islamists - German deployment in Mali

France intervened in Mali in 2013 after militants - some linked to al-Qaida - overran the northern part of the country and hijacked an ethnic Tuareg uprising. 

Jihadis have largely been pushed out of the north but they are still able to carry out attacks in Mali and the region, including on civilians and the UN.

Groups affiliated with the so-called "Islamic State" and Boko Haram are also active in the vast Sahel region. 

cw/cmk (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)

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