Strat­egy key, says US on African army

Weekend Argus (Sunday Edition) - - AFRICA - MICHELLE NI­CHOLS

KINSHASA: The US strongly sup­ports an African military force to com­bat ex­trem­ists in the Sa­hel re­gion, but needs to see a strat­egy for the op­er­a­tion be­fore it con­sid­ers fund­ing, the US en­voy to the UN and the US Africa com­man­der said.

Wash­ing­ton is wary, how­ever, of the 193-mem­ber UN fund­ing the force to be made up of troops from Mali, Burk­ina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mau­ri­ta­nia, ac­cord­ing to Am­bas­sador Nikki Ha­ley and Gen­eral Thomas Wald­hauser.

The US funds more than a quar­ter of the $7.3 bil­lion UN peace­keep­ing bud­get.

Ha­ley said Wash­ing­ton wanted to know “what the strat­egy would be, how they see this play­ing out, what’s in­volved in it be­fore we ever com­mit to UN - as­sessed fund­ing.”

The rise of ji­hadist groups, some linked to al Qaeda and Is­lamic State, in the arid Sa­hel has alarmed Western pow­ers such as France, which has de­ployed thou­sands of troops to the re­gion.

The US has also been tar­get­ing the IS in Libya and al-Shabaab in So­ma­lia. But US in­volve­ment in counter-ter­ror­ism in Africa has been un­der the spotlight since four US Spe­cial Forces troops were killed in an am­bush in Niger ear­lier this month.

“In Africa with all the chal­lenges of the youth bulge, poverty, the lack of gov­er­nance, wide open spa­ces, th­ese are ar­eas where vi­o­lent ex­trem­ist or­gan­i­sa­tions, like Is­lamic State or like al-Qaeda, thrive,” said Wald­hauser, who over­sees US troops de­ployed in Africa.

“UN forces don’t do counter-ter­ror­ism, they do peace­keep­ing op­er­a­tions,” Wald­hauser added, re­flect­ing US un­ease at the UN fund­ing of the prospec­tive force.

The African counter-ter­ror­ism force, known as the G5 Sa­hel, plans to launch its first joint op­er­a­tions in the com­ing days.

“One of the hard­est things to do in an or­gan­i­sa­tion like that is to try to syn­chro­nise the ef­forts of those five coun­tries and have a co­her­ent strat­egy as op­posed to just a se­ries of en­gage­ments in dif­fer­ent lo­ca­tions,” Wald­hauser said.

The US sup­ported a French­drafted UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil res­o­lu­tion in June to give po­lit­i­cal back­ing to the G5 Sa­hel force, but re­fused to back a for­mal UN man­date.

The 15-mem­ber coun­cil is due to dis­cuss the force to­mor­row.

Ha­ley said the US would con­tinue its bi­lat­eral sup­port for the G5 coun­tries, but when asked how much Wash­ing­ton was pre­pared to con­trib­ute to the G5 Sa­hel force, she said: “You will hear about that, com­ing soon.”

Wald­hauser said the US makes a to­tal of $51m in bi­lat­eral de­fence con­tri­bu­tions to the G5 coun­tries.

French de­fence min­is­ter Florence Parly said last week the US must step up sup­port for the planned Sa­hel force or it could fail, leav­ing French troops to carry the bur­den.

A re­port to the Se­cu­rity Coun­cil by UN Sec­re­tary-Gen­eral An­to­nio Guter­res ear­lier this month said that the planned force bud­get of $490m for the first year was only 25% funded.

Wald­hauser said the G5 coun­tries had dis­cussed their planned counter-ter­ror­ism force with US military of­fi­cials in May. – Reuters

PIC­TURE: REUTERS

A South Su­danese refugee girl at the Nguenyyiel refugee camp dur­ing a visit by US Am­bas­sador to the UN Nikki Ha­ley to the Gam­bella Re­gion, Ethiopia, this week.

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