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Africa's Sahel region seeks aid to fight violent extremism, stop its spread

Africa’s Sahel region has become a hot spot for violent extremism, but the joint force set up in 2014 to combat groups linked to the Islamic State, al-Qaida and others has failed to stop their inroads, and a senior U.N. official warned Tuesday that without greater international support and regional cooperation the instability will expand toward West African coastal countries.

“Resolute advances in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime in the Sahel desperately need to be made,” U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Pobee told a U.N. Security Council meeting.

The counterterrorism force, now comprised of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger, lost Mali a year ago when its ruling junta decided to pull out. Pobee said the force hasn’t conducted any major military operations since January.

She said the force is adjusting to new realities: France moving its counterterrorism force from Mali to Niger due to tensions with the junta and Mali’s decision to allow Russian mercenaries from Wagner to deploy on its territory.

An agreement between the U.N., EU and the force under which the U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali supplied fuel, rations, medical evacuation and engineering support to the joint force is expected to end in June, she said, expressing hope that the Security Council will consider the issue of U.N. financing for African peace operations.

Eric Tiaré, executive secretary of the force known as the G5 Sahel, said experts have finalized a new concept of operations, which will be submitted to its defense council and then to the African Union to be endorsed.

“Given that the Sahel is at a crossroads, as it is seeing many threats to international peace and security, it’s absolutely vital that we provide support to the force,” he said. “The force needs what it has always lacked and what it has always sought. That is sustainable funding and equipment as we seek to counter terrorism.”

Ewi said the Lake Chad Basin — which borders Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon — was the extremist group’s biggest area of operation and areas in the Sahel were now “ungovernable.”

Pobee warned that without significant gains in fighting terrorism, “it will become increasingly difficult to reverse the security trajectory in the Sahel, and the further expansion of insecurity towards coastal West African countries.”

She said the recent instability in Sudan was an additional cause for concern. “The devastating effects of the continuing destabilization of the Sahel would be felt far beyond the region and the African continent,” Pobee said.

DeLaurentis urged Mali to rejoin the G5 Sahel, saying regional efforts are needed to fight terrorism, criminal networks and climate change. And he extended U.S. support to Burkina Faso, Chad and Mali to complete their transitions to democratically elected civilian governments.

“We and other partners are keen to consider restarting currently restricted support,” he said. “The election of democratic governments would help us resume such assistance.”

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