West Africa Force Is Said to Secure Saudi Arabia Backing

(Bloomberg) -- A West African force that’s being created to fight a surge in jihadist attacks is getting ready to be deployed after France persuaded Saudi Arabia to help fund the operation, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Saudi Arabia has agreed to provide $100 million to the force known as G5 Sahel following a visit by French President Emmanuel Macron to the country in early November, said the person who asked not be identified because he isn’t authorized to speak publicly. The European Union will probably double its initial contribution of 50 million euros ($59 million), the person said.

An email requesting comment from Saudi Arabia’s ministry of foreign affairs wasn’t immediately answered.

Five West African nations -- Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania -- agreed this year to deploy a 5,000-strong regional force to fight militants linked to al-Qaeda and Islamic State in the Sahel, a semiarid region stretching along the southern end of the Sahara. The plan received strong backing from France, which already has 4,000 soldiers in the region tasked with hunting down suspected terrorists.

The main area of operation will be the border area of Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso. While most attacks so far have originated in Mali, which was nearly overrun by an alliance of separatist and Islamist insurgents in 2012, the emergence of home-grown Islamist groups in other countries has stoked concern of regional destabilization.

Logistical Support

The United Nations Security Council in June unanimously approved a resolution that welcomed the force without making a request for funding, effectively leaving the five countries to fend for themselves. However, by now about 300 million euros has been mobilized, enough to get the force started, said the person. The U.S. pledged $60 million in October.

France seeks to secure logistical support from the UN peacekeeping mission in Mali such as fuel and medical evacuation for wounded soldiers, at no additional cost to the UN, the person said. The UN has more than 13,000 peacekeepers in Mali.

France is preparing a resolution asking the UN to give a stronger endorsement to the operation and may eventually withdraw its own soldiers if the G5 Sahel is successful, though not within the next five years, the person said.

France will host a meeting Dec. 13 aimed at accelerating the deployment of the military force and raising the remainder of the funding. The G5 Sahel will require at least 120 million euros a year, the person said.

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