The countries of West Africa’s Sahel region are requesting 50 million euros ($56 million) from the European Union to help set up a multi-national force to take on Islamist militant groups, Mali’s military chief said.
The vast, arid zone has become a breeding ground for jihadist groups – some linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State – European nations, particularly France, fear could menace Europe if left unchecked.
Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, Mali and Mauritania – the so-called G5 Sahel countries – propose a regional task force designed to tackle the cross-border threat. Implementation of the plan has lagged, partly due to funding obstacles.
“The council of ministers of the G5 Sahel countries is requesting the European Union to financially support the deployment and functioning of the G5 Sahel Joint Force,” Malian General Didier Dacko said.
He was speaking at a meeting in Bamako between G5 Sahel military chiefs, EU diplomats and officers from France’s regional anti-militant force, Operation Barkhane that aimed to map out what areas required assistance.
Last year, the group proposed establishing special units, each composed of around 100 well-trained soldiers, capable of responding quickly to shifting threats, which would be deployed in areas where jihadist groups are known to operate.
They would complement the efforts of regular armed forces, United Nations peacekeepers in Mali and Operation Barkhane, with around 4,000 French troops deployed across the five Sahel countries.
France spearheaded a 2013 military intervention that successfully drove back militants who had seized Mali’s desert north a year earlier. However, militants continue to attack local security forces, UN peacekeepers and civilian targets across the region.
New French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Mali on his first trip outside of Europe last month, reaffirmed Paris’s commitment to the region and called on Germany and other European nations to ramp up military and development aid.
French soldiers killed about 20 Islamist militants in Mali last week, France’s defence ministry said. The announcement came a day after French soldiers were wounded, one seriously, in a mortar attack claimed by al Qaeda’s local affiliate on a UN peacekeeping camp in Mali.