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West African juntas set up joint anti-terrorism force

March 7, 2024

Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali are planning on a joint force to "overcome the security challenges" facing the Sahel countries.

Soldiers pictured at Niger's National Guard's training center in Niamey in May 2023
The West African neighbors are embroiled in a decade-long fight with Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called "Islamic State" Image: Mads Claus Rasmussen/Ritzau Scanpix/picture alliance

The junta-led Sahel states of Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali, have agreed to establish a joint anti-terrorism force to deal with an Islamist insurgency that has spread across the region.

Niger's armed forces head, Moussa Salaou Barmou, said on Wednesday the new force will be "operational as soon as possible to meet the security challenges in our region."

"We are convinced that with the joint efforts of our three countries, we will succeed in creating the conditions for joint security," he added.

The three West African neighbors are located in the Sahel region and have all seen coups unseat their civilian governments.

They have also been mired in a decade-long conflict involving Islamist groups linked to al-Qaeda and the so-called "Islamic State."

Process of alignment

The three countries have taken steps to align themselves by cutting ties with former colonial ruler France and halting military cooperation in a shift towards Russia.

All three states had been members of the France-supported G5 Sahel alliance joint force with Chad and Mauritania, launched in 2017 to tackle Islamist groups in the region however relations with France soured following the coups.

In September Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali signed off on a defense alliance known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

Barmou said the new anti-terrorist task force would be integrated into the AES, without providing details on the size of the planned joint force.

Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger sign defense pact

Going it alone

In January, the three neighbors announced they were leaving the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) accusing the bloc of a lack of support and "inhumane" coup-related sanctions.

ECOWAS had imposed sanctions on the countries for overthrowing the democratically elected governments in a succession of coups.

Niger's President Mohamed Bazoum was deposed in July 2023, and the junta said it would take three years to return to civilian rule.

In Mali's case, civilian rule was last in place before the first of two coups, in August 2020.

Burkina Faso's elected government was ousted in 2022. The country has not been put under sanctions and its current ruler, Captain Ibrahim Traore has allowed elections to take place this summer.

ECOWAS: What next after Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso quit?

kb/ab (Reuters, dpa, AFP)