Success of Joint Sahel Counter-terrorism Force Hinges on Cooperation, Funding to Fill Capacity Gaps, Key Peacekeeping Official Tells Security Council

‘In No Way’ Would Group of Five Impinge on National Efforts, Partnerships, Mali’s Permanent Representative Pledges

The Group of Five Sahel States (G5 Sahel) Joint Force to combat trans-border terrorism and organized crime could make a significant contribution to stabilizing the region by working in tandem with other ongoing initiatives, a senior United Nations peacekeeping official told the Security Council today.

El-Ghassim Wane, Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, emphasized the importance of coordination as he briefed the Council on progress being made by the G5 Sahel (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) in making the 5,000-strong Joint Force operational along Mali’s border with Niger and Burkina Faso by October.

Recalling the 21 June adoption of resolution 2359 (2017), by which the Council welcomed the Joint Force’s deployment, he said success would depend in good part on deeper regional partnership, as well as joint work with African Union and United Nations strategies for the Sahel, the peace process in Mali and support from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA).

With a projected first-year budget of €423 million, he stressed that international support would be needed — over and above pledges made by France and the European Union — to fully fund the Joint Force, with a donor conference to be held in Berlin in September and a planning conference in Brussels in December.  For its part, MINUSMA was making its own preparations, he said, adapting existing coordination mechanisms to include the Joint Force.

He underscored other significant challenges of force generation, training, equipment, tactical support, intelligence and communications technology, sanitation evacuation capabilities and camp protection.  Success for the Joint Force would hinge on the support of the population, and it would, therefore, be essential to ensure strict respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.

Following the briefing, Council members condemned recent terrorist attacks in the region, notably on 13 August in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in which at least 18 people were killed, and another on 14 August against two MINUSMA camps in Douentza, Mali, in which a Togolese peacekeeper had died.

Mali’s representative, speaking on behalf of the Group of Five Sahel countries, said terrorism had only strengthened the determination of regional Governments to work together to eradicate that scourge.  He spotlighted various developments in the deployment status of Joint Force units, including building and office renovations.  Mobilizing funds for the Joint Force remained a major priority, he said, stressing also that development — particularly for women and young people — remained a long-term undertaking.

France’s representative, noting that her country had deployed 4,000 soldiers in the Sahel to counter terrorism, said the region’s security situation was directly linked to that in Mali, where terrorist groups trafficked in drugs and human beings across borders.  Tackling the problem would require a comprehensive response from the G5 Sahel countries, she said, emphasizing the crucial need for United Nations support.

In that vein, Senegal’s delegate called for international solidarity in providing “massive and swift” financial and logistical support to the Joint Force.  Coordination with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union would help the Joint Force become operational, he said, stressing, however, that military efforts would not be enough to address the many challenges facing the Sahel region.

Ethiopia’s representative said that, given the United Nations’ lack of capacity to fight terrorism, it was appropriate for the Organization to support regional bodies that were ready to do so.  The international community had a moral responsibility to contribute to the G5 Sahel effort, he said, and arguably a political one as well.

Also speaking were representatives of Italy, Uruguay, Sweden, Bolivia, Japan, Kazakhstan, United States, China, Russian Federation, United Kingdom, Ukraine and Egypt.

The meeting began at 10:04 a.m. and ended at 11:45 a.m.

Briefing

EL-GHASSIM WANE, Assistant-Secretary-General for Peacekeeping Operations, said the cross-border dimension of the terrorist threat in the Sahel, as well as the serious challenges posed by transnational organized crime and its links to terrorism, remained a serious threat to stability, prosperity and growth in the Sahel.  In Mali, recent attacks by violent extremist groups — including in Ouagadougou and on two camps operated by the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) — were a sad reality hampering implementation of the peace agreement.  An erosion of State authority provided a fertile breeding ground for such groups, he said, adding that time for identifying solutions was running out.  Commending the strong determination of the Group of Five (G5) Sahel States (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger) to tackle the problem head-on, he said the creation of the Joint Force to address the terrorist threat demonstrated regional ownership of regional challenges that would require collective action and unity of purpose.

Summarizing important steps taken since February towards establishing the 5,000-strong Joint Force, he said they included the appointment of General Didier Dacko of Mali as commander and the planning for coordinated operations in October.  Immediate priority had been accorded to the central sector along Mali’s border with Niger and Burkina Faso.  Recalling the Joint Force’s projected first-year budget of €423 million, he said a meeting in Berlin in September and a subsequent Planning Conference would provide opportunities to explore further options for supporting its start-up.  For its part, MINUSMA would set up a command post in Mopti to strengthen coordination with the Joint Force in the Central Sector.  Existing coordination mechanisms between MINUSMA and other forces would be adapted to include the Joint Force.

He went on to underscore significant challenges to be addressed, including force generation, training, equipment, tactical support, intelligence and communications technology, sanitation evacuation capabilities and camp protection.  The potential impact of force generation and operations on MINUSMA’s capabilities and posture must also be considered, and various legal aspects must be clarified.  Success for the Joint Force would hinge on the support of the population, and it would, therefore, be essential to ensure strict respect for international humanitarian and human rights law.  While the Joint Force was a unique opportunity to respond to regional challenges through a regional approach, the roots of instability — a governance deficit, chronic poverty, climate change and development financing — must be dealt with at the same time.  Further, the political framework must be better defined, as must the roles and responsibilities of the G5 command structure so that military operations were guided by coordinated decision-making and complemented the work of MINUSMA and international forces.

Recalling that resolution 2359 (2017) called for swift and effective implementation of regional strategies by the G5 Sahel countries and their international partners, he said the Joint Force could make a significant contribution to stabilizing the region, in cooperation with the African Union and United Nations strategies for the Sahel, the Malian peace process and MINUSMA’s support for that initiative, and the Alliance for the Sahel.  He pressed all parties to ensure that their approaches were aligned and mutually reinforcing, noting the Secretary-General’s recent appointment of a working group on the Sahel.  The success of the Joint Force depended on deepening the regional partnership, he said, the determination of the G5 Sahel countries to put it into operation and the unwavering support of international partners.

Statements

ANNE GUEGUEN (France) said the terrorist threat in the Sahel undermined stability in the region and even Europe, noting that France had deployed some 4,000 soldiers to counter terrorism.  The security situation in the Sahel was directly linked to that in Mali, where terrorist groups trafficked drugs and human beings across borders, and tackling that problem would require a comprehensive response from the G5 Sahel countries.  In addition, those countries must aim to respond to major economic and social challenges, and coordinate their efforts with MINUSMA so the Mission could focus on its main priorities.  Their commitment to dedicate $10 million a year demonstrated the priority they accorded to Sahel issues, she said, noting that the European Union had contributed $50 million to enhance the Joint Force command structure.  While France and its European partners would continue to work with G5 Sahel countries to mobilize funds and donors, United Nations support was also crucial, notably for ensuring legitimacy, guaranteeing the smooth coordination of stakeholders and providing technical and logistical assistance to the Joint Force.

INIGO LAMBERTINI (Italy) said his country witnessed daily the effects of instability in the Sahel on the Mediterranean.  He welcomed the decision of G5 Sahel countries to create a Joint Force, pledging Italy’s support at the bilateral and international levels, including at the United Nations.  It was particularly crucial to ensure synergy between the Joint Force and MINUSMA and to have a political strategy to tackle the region’s problems.  The United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel remained critical despite that its implementation was lacking.  Governance, security and development were interconnected, he said, and financing for the G5 Sahel forces must be ensured by various actors, including the European Union and the United Nations, at both the political and economic levels.  He highlighted the role of African regional organizations and the concept of African ownership in that context.

LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said the establishment of the Joint Force had demonstrated regional and multidimensional commitment and clear political will.  As terrorism in the region affected the world, the international community must be involved in devising solutions to the region’s many challenges.  The Joint Force must work alongside MINUSMA to stabilize the region.  In Mali, since the signing of the 2015 Agreement for Peace and Reconciliation, efforts appeared to be on the decline, and he called on Malian stakeholders to find alternative solutions to security challenges, stressing that terrorist attacks, most recently in Burkina Faso, must be fully condemned.  Highlighting the vulnerabilities of women and young people in conflict, he recognized the important role of women in peacebuilding.  It was up to regional countries to ensure protection for children released by armed groups, he said, stressing:  “Those who have been robbed of their childhood must be considered as victims and not perpetrators.”

IRINA SCHOULGIN-NYONI (Sweden) said a sustainable solution to the Sahel required continued attention to the root causes of instability, which included ensuring that young people could see a future without having to migrate or join criminal or extremist networks.  While the G5 Sahel countries bore the primary responsibility for making the Joint Force operational, international support was needed, given the catalogue of capability gaps and needs.  Highlighting several issues that required clarification, she said an overarching political framework and a coherent strategy must guide Joint Force efforts, while the command and control structure must be well defined.  It was crucial to ensure coordination among the many stakeholders on the ground and at the political level, stressing the important role of women in peacebuilding and conflict prevention.

SACHA SERGIO LLORENTTY SOLÍZ (Bolivia), commending regional efforts, said the Sahel faced major challenges, including a worsening humanitarian situation in the north of Mali, where millions were living amid food insecurity and limited access to water.  It was important to study the factors behind the conflict, he said, citing the consequences of interventionism and regime change policies that had prompted armed groups to move from Libya to the Sahel.  The exploitation of natural resources could not be overlooked, he added, citing the impact of illegal exportation by armed groups and the growing presence of transnational companies.

YASUHISA KAWAMURA (Japan) commended the G5 Sahel countries for making the Joint Force operational, stressing:  “This is a prime example of regional ownership.”  Pursuing common efforts in support of the Mali peace agreement was crucial, he said, noting that persistent implementation delays had been compounded by violations of the accord and sporadic terrorist attacks.  Underscoring the unique role of the Joint Force in isolating armed terrorist groups, he highlighted the importance of enhanced cooperation among the Joint Force, MINUSMA and French forces.  The scale of the challenges was vast, making partnership between the G5 Sahel countries and the international community essential to restoring stability and addressing deep-rooted vulnerabilities.  The large youth population in the Sahel called for inclusive and sustained livelihoods so as to prevent their radicalization, he added, underlining that young people, as well as women, must be involved in peacebuilding.

TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), welcoming the official launch of the Joint Force, said the G5 Sahel countries had demonstrated their commitment to fight terrorism and transnational organized crime.  However, they needed financial and logistical support to put the Joint Force into operation, as pledges had fallen far short of what was needed to cover the preliminary budget.  More must be done to mobilize international support.  It was vital that the Council support such regional initiatives, in line with the global-regional partnership approach advocated by the High-Level Independent Panel on Peace Operations.  As the United Nations lacked the capacity to fight terrorism, it was appropriate for it to support regional organizations ready to do so.  The international community had a moral responsibility to contribute to the G5 Sahel effort, he said, and arguably a political one as well.  He expressed hope for the rapid implementation of the Integrated Strategy for the Sahel, stressing that the question of coordination should receive high priority.

BARLYBAY SADYKOV (Kazakhstan) said the situation in the Sahel remained fragile.  Welcoming the Joint Force’s formal launch, he said the provision of financial support was a challenge.  He commended pledges by France and the European Union and encouraged others to make considerable pledges at the Berlin conference.  It was unlikely, however, that a strictly military approach would suffice.  Instability had resulted from layers of problems, of which violent extremism was only a recent one, he said, emphasizing the need to focus on root causes and to promote development.

MICHELE J. SISON (United States) said her country understood the seriousness of the threat in the Sahel region.  It was fundamentally important to find political solutions to long-lasting conflicts, especially in Mali, where signatory parties to the peace agreement were not keeping their end of the bargain.  Deepened cooperation among the G5 Sahel countries had the potential to improve security while supporting peace efforts, she said, adding that the United States looked forward to the upcoming donor conference.  Reiterating her country’s strong support for the G5 Sahel countries, she said:  “We will continue to stand by you.”

SHEN BO (China) stressed the need for regional countries and the international community to adopt a unified approach to the Sahel.  The decision by the G5 Sahel countries to deploy a Joint Force reflected the will of African nations to work together.  Resolution 2359 (2017) also enjoyed international support, he added, welcoming contributions made by regional countries to the Joint Force.  Africa must be fully supported to settle its own challenges and problems.  It was important to study areas where the Joint Force exercised its mandate and to explore practical measures.  To that end, the international community could provide targeted assistance and bolster capacities, while the Joint Force must coordinate with MINUSMA.

FODÉ SECK (Senegal) welcomed the establishment of the Joint Force and its coordination with MINUSMA and other components on the ground.  He called for international solidarity in providing “massive and swift” financial and logistical support to the Joint Force.  Coordination with the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the African Union would help the Joint Force become operational on the ground, he said, stressing, however, that military efforts would not be enough to address the many challenges, including organized crime and human and drug trafficking.  The international community must remain engaged on the ground as it had a moral and political responsibility to do so.

VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that achieving peace in Africa increasingly required the participation of Africans themselves.  He welcomed the establishment of the G5 Sahel, adding that the full deployment of the Joint Force would help counter terrorism on the ground.  Condemning the region’s most recent terrorist attacks, he said that without dealing with that threat first, it would be impossible to address pressing social and economic problems.  Consistent implementation of the United Nations Integrated Strategy for the Sahel was more crucial than ever.  Acknowledging that the Sahel and Sahara regions had much work to do, he warned that aid must never come with “blanket preconditions” that contravened the interests of African States, especially as such interference had caused chaos in Libya and mass instability in the region.

JONATHAN ALLEN (United Kingdom) said he was encouraged by early progress made since the adoption of resolution 2359 (2017).  Resource challenges faced by the G5 Sahel force must be addressed by the international community, including at the upcoming donor conference.  He spotlighted ways the United Kingdom was providing assistance, including by training troops through various European Union initiatives.  The international community must remain committed to confronting challenges in the Sahel, he said, stressing that, in addition to military operations, efforts must focus on advancing a political process.

EDUARD FESKO (Ukraine), emphasizing that Mali could not fight terrorism alone, said the international community and the Sahel region must continue to consolidate their efforts.  He expressed hope that the Berlin donor conference would help cover funding challenges, adding that intelligence-sharing between MINUSMA and the Joint Force should be a priority.

AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt), Council President for August, speaking in his national capacity, said resolution 2359 (2017), while not going beyond a statement of political support, was a step forward that could be built upon.  Emphasizing that the Sahel faced risks that could extend beyond the region, he said diverging views on the role of the Council and the United Nations in providing support must not prevent the drafting of a comprehensive approach.  Advocating African solutions to African problems as a high-yielding investment, he said that support for regional initiatives was the only way to reach sustainable solutions.  Egypt would spare no effort to support the G5 Sahel countries, he said, noting its provision of 1,000 scholarships for military officers and non-commissioned officers from the region.

ISSA KONFOUROU (Mali), speaking on behalf of the Group of Five Sahel countries, said terrorism in the region had only strengthened the determination of Governments there to work together to eradicate that scourge.  He spotlighted various developments in the deployment status of Joint Force units, including building and office renovations.  While the budget of the Joint Force was being finalized, he welcomed contributions by Mali and Niger to develop infrastructure that would help it carry out its mandate.  Welcoming cooperation by financial donors in the region, he said the G5 Sahel countries were open to all support from partners and were committed to ensuring transparency in the use of funds.  Mobilizing funds for the Joint Force remained a major priority, he said, welcoming the upcoming planning conference in Brussels.

He went on to stress the importance of development in the Sahel, particularly for women and young people, yet it remained a long-term mission.  There were immediate issues to address, especially the urgent need for assistance in medical evacuation.  Emphasizing that the deployment of the Joint Force in no way would undermine national structures or the work of international organizations, he said that cooperation would multiply the impact on the ground.  The Joint Force had reaffirmed its commitment to the African Peace and Security Architecture and was focused on respecting women, children and all civilians.

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