U.S. wary of French push for U.N. to back Sahel force: diplomats

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 08, 2017 4:13 PM

By Michelle Nichols

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - The United States is wary of a French push for the U.N. Security Council to authorize a West African force to combat terrorism and trafficking in the Sahel region because it does not want the world body to help fund it, diplomats said on Thursday.

France circulated a draft Security Council resolution on Tuesday to the 15-member body that would approve the force using "all necessary means" and ask U.N. chief Antonio Guterres to report on options for U.N. support to the operation.

Closed-door negotiations began on Wednesday, and diplomats said the United States would prefer the council give its blessing in a statement instead of a resolution and encourage bilateral support for the West African force.

The European Union has already committed $56 million to the Sahel force.

The U.S. mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The United States is a council veto power along with Russia, China, France and Britain.

The vast, arid Sahel region has in recent years become a breeding ground for jihadist groups - some linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State - that European nations, particularly France, fear could threaten Europe if left unchecked.

"The African Union and the secretary-general have asked the council to authorize this Sahel force," France's U.N. ambassador, Francois Delattre, told reporters on Thursday. "It is important that the whole Security Council gets united behind this draft."

The United States is currently trying to cut the cost of U.N. peacekeeping and is reviewing each of the 16 missions as they come up for Security Council renewal. Washington is the largest contributor, paying 28.5 percent of the $7.9 billion peacekeeping budget.

President Donald Trump's fiscal year 2018 proposed budget would cut $1 billion from the U.S. contribution to U.N. peacekeeping, although Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, and Democrats have said they do not support drastic cuts.

Last year, the Sahel nations - Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania - proposed establishing special units, each of around 100 well-trained soldiers, which would be deployed in areas where jihadist groups are known to operate.

They would complement the efforts of regular armed forces, a U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali and France's Operation Barkhane, which has around 4,000 troops deployed across the five Sahel countries.

France intervened in 2013 to drive back militants who had seized northern Mali a year earlier. However, militants continue to attack in Mali and its neighbors.

(Reporting by Michelle Nichols; Editing by Leslie Adler)