$1 billion pledged to fight Islamist militancy


West African leaders pledged $1 billion to combat the spiralling threat of Islamist militancy in the region, the head of the regional ECOWAS bloc said.

Groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State strengthened their foothold across the Sahel region this year, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking local ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.

The 15 members of the West African bloc and the presidents of Mauritania and Chad gathered for an extraordinary summit in Ougadougou to address the growing insecurity.

ECOWAS Commission President Jean-Claude Kassi Brou said the commission decided to “contribute financially and urgently to joint efforts in the fight against terrorism” by pledging $1 billion.

In a speech following the closed meeting, Brou called on the United Nations to strengthen its MINUSMA peacekeeping mission in Mali since 2013.

In July, the UN said Islamist attacks were spreading so fast in West Africa the region should consider bolstering response beyond current military efforts.

In 2017, five countries – Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania – backed by France, launched the G5 Sahel task force to combat the insurgents. The initiative is perennially underfunded.

The situation in Burkina Faso deteriorated in recent weeks. An attack in late August killed 24 soldiers, one of the heaviest losses yet in the nation’s fight against Islamist militants. Last week, 29 people died in separate attacks in its troubled central-northern region.

Once a pocket of relative calm in the Sahel, Burkina suffered a home-grown insurgency for the past three years, amplified by a spill-over of jihadist violence and criminality from Mali.