UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Five African nations putting together a 5,000-strong force to fight the growing threat from extremists in the vast Sahel region appealed to the international community Tuesday for money, military equipment and logistical support.
Issa Konfourou, Mali's ambassador to the United Nations, said this week's "cowardly, barbaric" attack in Burkina Faso and the "terrorist attack" in Mali underscore the importance and urgency of deploying the force. Speaking on behalf of the five countries, he told the U.N. Security Council the first units will deploy in October and all battalions should be on the ground by March 2018.
U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Peacekeeping El-Ghassim Wane called the situation in the Sahel "dire," saying that the "time to identify solutions is running out."
"The cross-border dimension of the terrorist threat in the Sahel region as well as the serious challenges posed by transnational organized crime and its links with terrorism continue to pose a serious threat to stability, prosperity and growth in the Sahel," he said.
Wane said that in northern Mali the number of state officials in the volatile north has decreased by 10 percent from last year, noting for example that the "persistent threat by extremist groups targeting school teachers, students and parents resulted in the closure of 178 secular schools."
"This erosion of state authority provides a fertile breeding ground for violent extremist and terrorist groups," he warned. "Millions of young people in the Sahel facing job insecurity and even chronic poverty could all too easily fall prey to these groups."
Wane stressed that remedying the causes of instability in the Sahel requires going beyond military action and dealing with problems of governance, chronic poverty, unemployment, climate change and financing economic development as well as tackling cross-border crime.
The leaders of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad agreed in February to set up the joint military force. The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution in June welcoming the deployment, but at U.S. insistence it did not include any possibility of U.N. financing for the force.
The budget for the force's first year is 423 million euros, and the European Union has pledged 50 million euros. Each of the five countries will contribute 10 million euros, and France has pledged an additional 8 million euros in funds and logistical support. That leaves a gap of 305 million euros.
Niger's ambassador, Abdallah Wafy, said there will be a conference in Berlin in September to support the Sahel force "and the United States promised to attend this conference." He noted Niger has "very good military cooperation with the United States" and expects the U.S. will support the effort.
Deputy U.S. Ambassador Michele Sison called the Sahel force "a noble and important regional effort" and said "the United States will continue its longstanding bilateral support" to develop the security forces of the five nations providing troops.
The new force will operate in the region along with a 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali, which has become the deadliest in the world for U.N. peacekeepers, and France's 5,000-strong Barkhane military operation, its largest overseas mission.
Konfourou said the Sahel force will complement those efforts and will coordinate with them. He said the new force has immediate needs in equipping troops and ensuring their mobility and help with logistics, communications and protection in the field.