Strategy key, says US on African army
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
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.