G5 Sahel Force, Africa, G5S, Mali, Tuareg, US, China, France, EU, MNLA

The Malian crisis of 2013 was one of the pernicious effects of western intervention in Libya for regime change with the help of local armed groups. After the removal and death of Muammar Gaddafi, the ethnic Tuareg fighters left Libya and joined the ‘National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad’ (MNLA) in northern Mali in their fight against the government for an independent Azawad.

Tuaregs have been fighting for independence for decades, but they have never been so successful. With the influx of heavy weapons and trained fighters from Libya by the start of 2012, the strength of MNLA multiplied surprisingly and they unilaterally declared independence after the fall of Douentza, a strategic town in central Mali, in April 2012. Though the occupied territories were quickly regained by the Mali government and later on a peace agreement was brokered by Algeria between the government and the rebels in 2015, the crisis created a vacuum for other extremist and violent groups operating in the region. Ansar Din (now merged in Jama’at Nasr Al-Islam Wal Muslimin) was one such group which was led by another prominent Tuareg leader, Iyad Ag Ghaly. MNLA and Ansar Din were allies in early stages of the conflict with the state but due to differences they became opponents. Ansar Din along with other terrorist and extremist groups (AQIM, Boko Haram and Al-Mourabitoun) kept fighting the state whereas the former MNLA forces conducted their first joint patrolling with the Malian forces in northern Mali in February this year.

Leaders of the G5S announced formation of the joint force, G5 Sahel Force in February this year, and it was officially launched in presence of the French President on 2nd July after the endorsement by the African Union Peace and Security Council and adoption of the UNSC resolution 2359 in April and June respectively.

Besides the volatile political and security situation in Mali, Sahel region is known as a hot-bed for violence, corruption, lawlessness, illicit trade and transnational crimes. It is one of the most impoverished and underdeveloped region around the globe. To improve socioeconomic and security conditions in the region, five countries; Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad formed a regional intergovernmental organization, G5-Sahel or G5S, in 2014. G5S felt the need of a joint force to counter terrorism and transnational crimes after the rise in attacks in western Niger, Burkina Faso and Mali in 2016. Leaders of the G5S announced formation of the joint force, G5 Sahel Force in February this year, and it was officially launched in presence of the French President on 2nd July after the endorsement by the African Union Peace and Security Council and adoption of the UNSC resolution 2359 in April and June respectively.

G5 Sahel Force consists of 5000 troops from member countries who are responsible for operating in three targeted zones in the first phase, to counter transnational crimes. These three zones include the border area between Niger and Chad, border between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso (also known as Liptako Gourma) and the border between Mauritania and Mali. The first year budget of the force is estimated to be around $497 million. The five member states have pledged to contribute $58.83 million (11.77 million each), and the same amount is promised by the EU. France has pledged to contribute around $10 million by the end of the year, the US has pledged to contribute $60 million last month through bilateral channels and a donor conference is going to be held in Brussels in December to collect the remaining.

This joint force is actually a brainchild of France to use it as their exit strategy for the 4000 French troops which are deployed in the region since 2013. To counter terrorism and insurgency in northern Mali, France sent Serval Operation which was later expanded to the Sahel region as Operation Barkhane to protect its former colonies and home soil from the growing threats of terrorism. Besides sending its troops, France also lobbied in UNSC, EU and the US for its former colonies, rich in resources (Gold, Uranium, Oil and Gas etc.) and successfully convinced UNSC for sending Multidimensional Integrated Stabilizations Mission in Mali or MINUSMA, in 2013, and EU and the US for financing G5 Sahel Force.

The US involvement in the region also came into limelight after the killing of four US Special Forces in Niger on October 4th. Reports show the US has deployed around 1700 troops in the African continent, on 96 missions in 21 countries. Out of 1700, around 800 troops are deployed in the Sahel region with drone bases in Niger and Burkina Faso, and training missions in the region. The US did not oppose the resolution 2359 in the Security Council, but it rejected to make any kind of contribution to the force via the UN. This was mainly because Trump had announced to reduce the payments to UN for its missions around the globe and this is why the recent pledge of $60 million to G5 was bilateral in nature.

China, another global stakeholder, not only welcomed the initiative, but has also sent 403 Chinese troops under MINUSMA. Though China supports peace and stability in the region for its long-term interests of the Belt Road Initiative (BRI), but the priority of the Chinese battalion in MINUSMA will be the protection of Chinese civilians and its ongoing projects in the region.

Germany is another major contributor who has sent around 600 troops under MINUSMA and is expected to contribute financially in the scheduled donor conference for the Sahel Force in Brussels.

The effectiveness of the joint force is also doubtful, because they are operating in a region where more than 13000 UN troops with more than $1 billion annual budget, 4000 French forces and almost 800 US forces with maximum unity and minimum chances of corruption, failed to deliver.

G5 Sahel Force is not going to bring any obvious changes for the people of the region. This initiative is initiated, funded and lobbied by France and financed by the EU and the US. That is why the external agenda will be given priority over the regional one. The effectiveness of the joint force is also doubtful, because they are operating in a region where more than 13000 UN troops with more than $1 billion annual budget, 4000 French forces and almost 800 US forces with maximum unity and minimum chances of corruption, failed to deliver. These forces were sent to bring stability and to return the displaced persons after establishing the writ of the government, but hundreds and thousands are still living in camps, trafficking in drugs, arms and humans continues unabated. Military-first is not the solution in an impoverished region like Sahel. If regional countries and the international community intend to eradicate the menace of terrorism in the long-term, they need to target the poverty and to spend millions and billions on development in the region.

Najeeb Ullah Nasar

Najeeb Ullah Nasar

has done M.Phil in International Relations from the National Defence University, Islamabad.

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