Macron in Mali for diplo­matic push on Sa­hel anti-ji­had force

‘G5 Sa­hel’ coun­tries bat­tle Is­lamist mil­i­tants

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

French Pres­i­dent Em­manuel Macron made a light­ning visit to Mali yesterday to throw his weight be­hind a planned Sa­hel force to fight ji­hadists but told coun­tries their ef­forts had to bear fruit. The so-called “G5 Sa­hel” coun­tries-Burk­ina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mau­ri­ta­nia and Niger­have pledged to set up a joint force to com­bat the wave of Is­lamist bomb­ings, shoot­ings and kid­nap­pings south of the Sa­hara. Macron, join­ing the heads of state in the Malian cap­i­tal Bamako for a spe­cial sum­mit, hailed the ini­tia­tive as “a dy­namic, a groundswell which France is proud to back”. But, he said, “it will be up to you and your armed forces to demon­strate that the G5 can be ef­fec­tive, while re­spect­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian con­ven­tions. The re­sults have to be there to con­vince your part­ners.”

Based in Se­vare in cen­tral Mali, the 5,000-strong G5 Sa­hel force aims to bol­ster 12,000 UN peace­keep­ers and France’s own 4,000-mem­ber Op­er­a­tion Barkhane, which is op­er­at­ing in the re­gion. Macron is also look­ing to ex­tra back­ing from Germany, the Nether­lands, Bel­gium and the United States-which al­ready has a drone base in Niger­be­yond a pledge of 50 mil­lion eu­ros ($57 mil­lion) made by the Euro­pean Union, a sum he de­scribed as “the start of a long-term com­mit­ment”.

Serge Michailof, a re­searcher at the Paris-based IRIS in­sti­tute, de­scribed the EU con­tri­bu­tion as “a joke” given the EU’s “very deep pock­ets” and the poverty of the Sa­hel coun­tries. “This force is go­ing to cost $300-400 mil­lion (262-350 mil­lion eu­ros) at the very least,” he said. Malian Foreign Min­is­ter Ab­doulaye Diop gave a fig­ure of $450 mil­lion. Cha­dian Pres­i­dent Idriss Deby has said his coun­try can­not af­ford to mo­bilise large numbers of troops si­mul­ta­ne­ously for the UN peace­keep­ing mis­sion and also in the new force.

Deby and Macron are due to meet on the mar­gins of the Bamako sum­mit to dis­cuss the fi­nan­cial is­sue, ac­cord­ing to the French pres­i­dency. Chad’s mil­i­tary is widely viewed as the strong­est of the five Sa­hel na­tions. AlQaeda’s Mali branch, mean­while, of­fered a re­minder of the ji­hadists’ threat, with the re­lease of a proof-of-life video of six foreign hostages. The clip posted Satur­day by Nus­rat AlIs­lam wal Mus­limeen, also known as the Group to Sup­port Is­lam and Mus­lims, in­cludes el­derly Aus­tralian sur­geon Arthur Ken­neth El­liott and French­woman Sophie Petronin.

Macron vis­ited Gao in north­ern Mali in May, his first foreign visit as pres­i­dent outside Europe, and promised that French troops would re­main “un­til the day there is no more Is­lamic ter­ror­ism in the re­gion”. France in­ter­vened to chase out ji­hadists linked to Al-Qaeda who had over­taken key north­ern cities in Mali in 2013. That mis­sion evolved into the cur­rent Barkhane de­ploy­ment launched in 2014 with an ex­panded man­date for counter-ter­ror op­er­a­tions across the Sa­hel. The new Sa­hel force will sup­port na­tional armies try­ing to catch ji­hadists across por­ous fron­tiers, and will work closely with Barkhane. Op­er­a­tions across Burk­ina Faso, Niger and Mali, all hit with fre­quent ji­hadist at­tacks, will be co­or­di­nated with French troops, a source in the French pres­i­dency told AFP ear­lier this week, while help would be given to set up com­mand cen­ters.

While weigh­ing up the chal­lenges of the G5 Sa­hel op­er­a­tion, an­a­lysts fre­quently com­pare it with the Multi­na­tional Joint Task Force bat­tling Nige­rian ji­hadist group Boko Haram in the Lake Chad re­gion, com­posed of troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nige­ria. De­spite heavy ini­tial crit­i­cism, that force “has suc­ceeded in a part of its mis­sion, which is to re­duce the ter­ri­tory con­trolled by Boko Haram and limit its ac­tions,” said Ri­naldo Depagne from the In­ter­na­tional Cri­sis Group, a non-gov­ern­men­tal or­ga­ni­za­tion that works on con­flict res­o­lu­tion.

How­ever, the G5 Sa­hel force has sup­ple­men­tary chal­lenges in the weak armed forces of Burk­ina Faso and Mali, while Chad and Niger are al­ready en­gaged on mul­ti­ple fronts, he added. The three-na­tion bor­der of Lip­tako-Gourma will be­come a “lab­o­ra­tory” for Burk­ina Faso, Mali and Niger where French forces will aim to work in tan­dem with these na­tions, be­fore bring­ing Chad and Mau­ri­ta­nia into the mix, Depagne pre­dicted. The G5 Sa­hel force’s top com­man­der, Malian gen­eral Di­dier Dacko, has said that at first each coun­try’s con­tin­gent would op­er­ate on its own soil, grad­u­ally be­com­ing more fo­cused on their mu­tual bor­ders. — AFP

BAMAKO: Chad’s Pres­i­dent Idriss Deby Itno (2nd left) speaks with French Pres­i­dent Emanuel Macron (cen­ter) as they gather with Pres­i­dent of Burk­ina Faso Roch Marc Chris­tian Ka­bore (front left), Mali’s Pres­i­dent Ibrahim Boubacar Keita (rear left), Niger’s Pres­i­dent Ma­hamadou Is­soufou (front right) and Mau­ri­ta­nian Pres­i­dent Mo­hamed Ould Ab­del Aziz (rear right) for a meet­ing dur­ing the G5 Sa­hel sum­mit, in Bamako yesterday. — AFP

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