Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force
Expected Council Action
During May, the Council usually meets on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S), which Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (G5 Sahel) decided to establish in February 2017 to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the region. Prior to this, members will receive the Secretary-General’s bi-annual report on the FC-G5S.
Key Recent Developments
The Sahel region continues to be destabilised by terrorist groups and inter-communal violence often exacerbated by these groups. The deteriorating situation has prompted a series of new security initiatives since January.
At a summit of heads of state in Pau, France, on 13 January, G5 Sahel countries and France reaffirmed their commitment to combating terrorism and created a new Coalition for the Sahel that is open to other partners. The coalition will address security measures, strengthen state capacities, and coordinate development initiatives. Its immediate military efforts will be concentrated in the Liptako-Gourma tri-border region of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger under the joint command of France’s regional counter-terrorism force, Operation Barkhane and the FC-G5S. A joint command mechanism has since been established, consisting of a joint command post to plan operations and an intelligence-sharing cell in Niamey, Niger, as well as the deployment of G5 Sahel officers to Barkhane’s headquarters in N’Djamena, Chad.
France also announced in early February that it was deploying 600 additional troops to reinforce Operation Barkhane, increasing it to 5,100 troops. On 27 March, Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, the Netherlands and Portugal, as well as Sweden (pending parliamentary approval) committed special forces to the French-led Task Force Takuba at a ministerial meeting held remotely of 11 European countries, Mali and Niger for the launch of the new force. The task force is under the command of Operation Barkhane and expected to become operational later this year to advise, assist and accompany Malian armed forces, in coordination with G5 Sahel partners, in fighting terrorist groups in the Liptako region.
Moreover, at the AU’s annual summit in February, African leaders requested the AU Commission to develop a framework for a possible six-month deployment of a force composed of the Multinational Joint Task Force (mandated by the AU Peace and Security Council to fight Boko Haram, the terrorist group based in the Lake Chad basin) and 3,000 troops to deter terrorist groups in the Sahel.
Despite these efforts, the security situation remains dire. Terrorist groups continue to be a threat in northern Mali despite recent progress in the peace process. In Mali’s centre, the situation has continued to deteriorate as a result of these groups’ expansion and intercommunal attacks, which Council members discussed during a 7 April meeting on Mali. On 9 January, Niger’s military suffered the deadliest attack in its history when suspected Islamic State militants attacked a base in Chinegodar, Tillabery region, near the Malian border, killing at least 89 soldiers. This followed a 10 December 2019 attack also in western Niger in which 71 soldiers were killed.
In Burkina Faso, terrorist and intercommunal violence had displaced 839,000 people by 25 March, compared with 87,000 people in January 2019. Security and community self-defence groups also continue to be implicated in abuses. According to Human Rights Watch, security forces detained and executed 31 men from the ethnic Fulani group on 9 April during a government counter-terrorism operation in the northern town of Djibo. This followed a series of other killings of Fulani, who are often accused of supporting terrorist groups, including the reported killing of 32 civilians in Mansila, Yagha province, by security forces on 6 March and the 8 March killing of 43 Fulani in Dinguila and Barga villages, Yatenga province, by Koglweogo self-defence militias. The COVID-19 pandemic has added a new layer of challenges for Burkina Faso after the country recorded its first two cases on 9 March. The Second Vice President of the National Assembly, Rose Marie Compaoré, died of COVID-19 on 18 March, and on 22 March it was reported that the ministers of foreign affairs, mines, education, and the interior had all tested positive for COVID-19.
Chad’s military suffered its worst losses in a single attack by Boko Haram when at least 98 soldiers were killed on 23 March in Boma, Chad. On 29 March, Chad launched a counter-insurgency operation. At the conclusion of the 10-day operation, which deployed troops to Niger and north-eastern Nigeria, the government claimed that over 1,000 Boko Haram militants had been killed, with a loss of 52 soldiers.
Key Issues and Options
Taking stock of progress and challenges in operationalising the FC-G5S and the support it receives from the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) is a key issue for the session in May. The upcoming Secretary-General’s report may acknowledge some progress, including an increase in operations.
Promoting and ensuring that the FC-G5S complies with international humanitarian law, which is necessary for UN support and critical for effective counter-terrorism, is a related issue. Complementing security measures by addressing structural problems that contribute to instability in the Sahel, such as governance and underdevelopment, through the UN’s Sahel Strategy and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme is a further issue frequently underscored during Council discussion on the FC-G5S.
In May, the Secretariat is expected to conduct an assessment of MINUSMA’s support for the FC-G5S. Resolution 2391 from December 2017 set out that MINUSMA provide medical and casualty evacuation capabilities, access to life-support consumables such as rations and fuel, and engineering support for FC-G5S units operating in Mali, for which the mission is reimbursed through an agreement with the EU. This support was expanded in last year’s resolution 2480 renewing MINUSMA’s mandate to allow all joint force contingents to receive life-support consumables, provided the FC-G5S or a third party delivered the assistance and units benefitting from it complied with the UN human rights due diligence policy. The assessment is likely to flag what is working well and what is not, ways to remedy shortcomings and problems, and possibly other areas where MINUSMA could provide support. Council members are likely to consider and may incorporate findings from the assessment when renewing MINUSMA’s mandate in June.
While Council members have all expressed support for the FC-G5S, they often raise concerns that the force has struggled to become fully operational. France is a strong advocate of the force, which is important as part of a long-term exit strategy for Operation Barkhane. In addition, Niger, new to the Council this year, as a G5 Sahel member is likely to be a strong proponent of the joint force. However, at the time of writing Niger has raised objections to the anticipated May briefing, apparently sensitive about the Council discussing alleged human rights abuses committed by security forces. Estonia, also new to the Council, contributes troops to Operation Barkhane. Several Council members contribute to other security initiatives in the region, including MINUSMA and EU training and capacity building missions, as well as regional development initiatives that, members frequently stress, require equal attention in order to stabilise the Sahel.
The Council has been divided over whether the UN should provide financial support to the FC-G5S. Over the last year-and-a-half, it has put on hold discussion of the Secretary-General’s proposal to establish a UN support package for the force to allow more time for the FC-G5S to demonstrate its effectiveness and how it uses funding already committed to it. In addition to the US preference to assist the FC-G5S bilaterally, it has been wary of authorising MINUSMA to support the FC-G5S.
France is the penholder on the G5 Sahel joint force.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE G5 SAHEL JOINT FORCE
|Security Council Resolutions|
|28 June 2019S/RES/2480||This renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2020, establishing as a second strategic priority that MINUSMA support government efforts to stabilise central Mali, and expanding the provision of MINUSMA life support consumables to all contingents in the G5 Sahel joint force.|
|8 December 2017S/RES/2391||This was a resolution on MINUSMA support to the G5 Sahel joint force.|
|20 March 2020S/2020/223||This was a quarterly report on Mali.|
|Security Council Meeting Record|
|20 November 2019S/PV.8670||This was a briefing on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel.|
|Security Council Press Statements|
|1 April 2020SC/14155||This press statement condemned the 23 March terrorist attack in Boma, Chad, which resulted in at least 98 killed and 47 wounded, and the attack on military vehicles near Goneri in Yobe State, Nigeria, the same day, which resulted in at least 47 killed.|
|21 November 2019SC/14029||This was a press statement on the joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel, issued following the Council’s 20 November briefing on the force.|