Sahel's anti-extremist force undermined by coups, UN chief warns

Sahel belt and other parts of Africa are new stomping ground for ISIS, US official Victoria Nuland says in Marrakech

A Malian soldier patrols the river bank in Konna, central Mali. AFP
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UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has said that a multinational force fighting armed extremists in the African Sahel region has been weakened by military coups in Mali and Burkina Faso, two members of the coalition.

The secretary general said coups in Mali in August 2020 and May 2021, and another in Burkina Faso in January 2022 had undermined the 5,000-strong G5-Sahel force, which also includes troops from Mauritania, Chad and Niger.

“I am deeply concerned by the rapidly deteriorating security situation in the Sahel,” Mr Guterres said in his report to the UN Security Council, obtained by AFP.

He raised concerns over the “potentially debilitating effect the uncertain political situation in Mali, Burkina Faso and beyond will have on efforts to further operationalise the G5-Sahel Joint Force”.

Coups in those countries “significantly slowed down the Joint Force's operational tempo”, he added.

Mr Guterres also highlighted reports of human rights abuses by both government troops and militants.

“I am also seriously disturbed by the deteriorating human rights situation amid reports of gruesome violations committed against civilians, both by terrorist armed groups but also reportedly by armed and security forces in the region,” he said.

G5-Sahel troops are struggling to fight militants who infiltrate and move among civilians with ease, Mr Guterres said.

“The infiltration and increased mobility of terrorist armed elements within local communities continues to present a major challenge for the G5 Joint Force, both in terms of identifying suitable informants and protecting civilians during operations,” he said.

Speaking in Morocco on Wednesday, Victoria Nuland, the US undersecretary of state for political affairs, said that the threat from ISIS was particularly high across Africa.

Victoria Nuland speaks during the ministerial meeting of the coalition against ISIS in Marrakech. AFP

The group, which once controlled large parts of Iraq and Syria, launched nearly 500 terrorist strikes in Africa last year that claimed more than 2,900 lives, she said.

“At the same time as we are preventing the resurgence of [ISIS] in Iraq and Syria, we need to remain vigilant to the continued threat it poses elsewhere in the world, especially here on the African continent,” she said.

Ms Nuland, the third highest-ranking US diplomat, replaced Secretary of State Antony Blinken at the coalition meeting after he tested positive for Covid-19.

Mali has struggled to suppress a brutal insurgency that began in the north in 2012 before spreading to central regions and spilling over into nearby Burkina Faso and Niger.

Large parts of Mali lie outside government control, and the worsening insurgency and instability have claimed thousands of lives and displaced hundreds of thousands.

Several military operations have been launched to counter the threat, including the French Barkhane operation and the G5 Sahel force.

Updated: May 11, 2022, 7:41 PM