U.S. Increases Support for West African Force Fighting Jihadists
(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. almost doubled its pledge for the financial support of a West African force that began deploying last year to fight a surge in Islamist militant attacks.
Assistance to the force that’s known as G5 Sahel will now total $111 million, from an initial pledge of $60 million made in October 2017, Samantha Reho, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Africa Command in Stuttgart, Germany, said Friday in an emailed response to questions. The additional amount will help “to meet the needs and strengthen the capabilities” of the unit, she said.
The 5,000-strong regional force started last year to mobilize troops from member nations -- Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania -- to counter militants linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel, a semiarid region, stretching across Africa along the southern end of the Sahara. Incidents of extremist violence in the region have tripled over the past year and resulted in the deaths of 895 people, according to a report by the U.S. Defense Department’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies released Oct. 29.
The North Atlantic Treaty Organization warned in a report released in July that the shortage of finance to secure long-term operations, provide training and purchase equipment raises concerns over the force’s “future funding and durability.”
A slow disbursement of funds has limited the capacity of the force to carry out operations in a region about half the size of the U.S., said Sean Smith, a West Africa analyst with U.K.-based risk-advisory company Verisk Maplecroft.
“The extra funds are a realization that the initial amount pledged is probably insufficient to the task,” said Smith.
While most jihadist attacks are originating in Mali, which was nearly overrun by an alliance of separatists and Islamist insurgents in 2012, the emergence of home-grown groups in the other member states has stoked concerns of growing regional destabilization. Largely dependent on foreign donations, the European Union raised 414 million euros ($474 million) from member nations and other donors in February to support G5 Sahel’s operations.
The United Nations has more than 13,000 members in its Mali mission, which suffered the greatest loss of life of any of its peacekeeping operations in 2017. France has almost 4,000 soldiers deployed in the region, and the U.S. has about 1,000 personnel.
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