The United Nations' peacekeeping chief Jean-Pierre Lacroix has warned that funding shortages could derail anti-terror operations in the Sahel, with "disastrous implications" for the restive region.
Mr Lacroix on Monday told the UN Security Council that West Africa's regional G5 Sahel task-force faced cashflow woes even as the fight against militants linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State had "intensified".
The latest UN report on the Sahel described a $13.5 million shortfall in 2021 to pay for rations, petrol and other supplies for the G5 force, a coalition of troops from Mali, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mauritania.
"The United Nations, alongside the G5 Sahel and other partners, continue to call for more predictable funding. The G5 Sahel Joint Force plays a critical role in the regional response to violent extremism," Mr Lacroix told a virtual UN council meeting.
"We should be mindful of the disastrous implications of the security situation for the rest of the West African region if the situation in the Sahel is not adequately addressed."
Mr Lacroix, the UN's Under Secretary General for Peace Operations, described other problems in the Sahel, including the "trafficking in persons, illicit goods, weapons and drugs" that militants use to buy guns, motorbikes and other gear.
Militants with links to global terror networks have in recent years killed hundreds of soldiers and civilians and stoked ethnic conflict, part of a wider security crisis across West Africa's arid Sahel belt.
Insecurity in the Sahel has forced 2.7 million people to flee their homes, says the UN refugee agency, UNHCR.
Militants typically drive around on motorbikes and pick-up trucks and can elude foreign forces by disappearing into the scrub. Sahel governments also struggle to secure and supply far-flung territories after militants have fought back.
The insurgents have grown stronger and extended their hold despite the presence of some 5,100 troops from former colonial power France, mostly based in Mali, and other international troops across the Sahel.
The French force, known as Barkhane, has scored big victories with help from local partners, notably against the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) group in the border region between Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso.
Still, the Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), which is affiliated to Al Qaeda, has been building up its strength.
Last week, French forces killed GSIM military chief Ba Ag Moussa in a firefight in eastern Mali, and in a separate operation in central Mali killed some 30 GSIM militants and captured or destroyed weapons and motorbikes.
Addressing the council, France's UN ambassador Nicolas de Riviere said French forces had "taken out several dozen terrorists" in recent weeks, with help from forces from Niger, the United States and other allies.
Mr de Riviere urged Sahel governments to "strengthen their institutions" and "deploy public services in remote areas" to cement gains once militants had been fought back.
According to French military sources, Paris is hoping to draw down its forces in the restive region to make room for a stronger commitment from other European Union members.
"Our aim is for the joint force to become fully independent," said Mr de Riviere.
"In order to achieve this, it still needs far-reaching support that the council should contribute to."