Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force
Expected Council Action
In June, the Council is expected to hold an open videoconference (VTC), followed by a closed VTC, on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S), which Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (G5 Sahel) established in 2017 to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the region.
Key Recent Developments
The Sahel region continues to be destabilised by terrorist groups and intercommunal violence often exacerbated by these groups. In Niger, attacks claimed by the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) left 72 soldiers dead on 10 December 2019 and 89 soldiers on 9 January—the two deadliest incidents experienced by Niger’s security forces. Violence in Burkina Faso continues to create an unprecedented humanitarian crisis in that country, displacing more than 838,000 people by 26 May, compared with 87,000 people in January 2019.
In light of the deteriorating situation, the heads of state of the G5 Sahel countries and France met in Pau, France, on 13 January, announcing the establishment of a new Coalition for the Sahel. The coalition, open to additional partners, encompasses initiatives to fight terrorism, re-establish state presence, and coordinate development activities. Immediate military efforts will concentrate on 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.
Other security initiatives include the launching of Task Force Takuba under the command of Operation Barkhane. Belgium, Denmark, Estonia, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, and Sweden (the latter pending parliamentary approval) committed special forces to the task force at a ministerial meeting held remotely on 27 March. The task force is 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-Gourma region. Moreover, the AU, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the G5 Sahel have continued discussions about the deployment of 3,000 additional troops to the Sahel. In a 21 April communiqué, the AU Peace and Security Council said it looked forward to being briefed by 15 June on a revised draft strategic concept note developed by the AU Commission for deploying these troops.
Despite the deteriorating security situation, the Secretary-General’s 8 May report on the FC-G5S said that “the Joint Force’s operational tempo increased throughout the reporting period”. The report continued: “For the first time since its establishment, it was able to simultaneously carry out and plan operations. In addition, operations increased in scale and duration”, taking place alongside recently launched regional and international security initiatives. The report flagged issues that continued to limit the ability of the FC-G5S to effectively benefit from the operational and engineering support of the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA). It also observed several recent delays in FC-G5S activities, deployments and operations due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and says that terrorist groups have sought to exploit the pandemic to intensify attacks and for propaganda purposes.
The Secretary-General’s report highlighted the importance of counter-terrorism operations respecting human rights. Recent months have seen growing numbers of reported human rights violations by security forces and self-defence militias. From 27 March to 2 April, Nigerien forces allegedly arrested and then executed 102 ethnic Tuareg and Fulani men in Inates and Ayorou in the western Tillaberi region. Niger’s minister of defence said that this would be investigated. A report by the MINUSMA human rights division also reported that Nigerien armed forces were responsible for 34 extrajudicial executions in several Malian localities between 23 February and 5 March, and that there were more than 100 extrajudicial killings by Malian security forces in the first quarter of 2020. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees condemned violence in Burkina Faso against Malian refugees by security forces who forcibly entered the Mentao refugee camp on 2 May, injuring at least 32 people, some seriously.
Key Issues and Options
Taking stock of progress and challenges in operationalising the FC-G5S, including its ability to use the support it receives from MINUSMA, is a key issue for the session in June.
Promoting and ensuring that the FC-G5S complies with international humanitarian law and the UN’s human rights due diligence policy, which is necessary for MINUSMA support and critical for effective counter-terrorism, is a related issue. Recent incidents of extra-judicial executions and other abuses by defence and security forces have caused increased concerns about military tactics. While FC-G5S units may not have been involved in some incidents, it may be challenging to distinguish actions of the FC-G5S from those of national forces outside the command of the joint force. 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 another important issue.
The findings of a Secretariat assessment of the support provided by MINUSMA to the FC-G5S will be included in the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on Mali ahead of the mission’s mandate renewal at the end of June. Last year’s resolution 2480 renewing MINUSMA’s mandate expanded its provision of life-support consumables to all joint force contingents, and not just those operating on Malian territory, provided the FC-G5S or other partners deliver the assistance. But as indicated in the Secretary-General’s 8 May report, MINUSMA’s mandate needs to be changed to allow commercial entities to transfer this assistance from the mission to the FC-G5S. The Council may address this impediment and other findings of the assessment in the mandate renewal of MINUSMA.
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 it views as part of a long-term exit strategy for Operation Barkhane. Niger is a member of the G5 Sahel, which has continued to call for the Council to authorise a Chapter VII mandate for the FC-G5S. In their view, that could ensure sustainable financial support to the FC-G5S. More recently, Niger objected to holding last month’s planned Council meeting on the FC-G5S because of its sensitivities to the Council’s discussing alleged human rights abuses committed by security forces. Several Council members contribute to other security initiatives in the region, including MINUSMA and EU training and capacity-building missions, and to 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. The US prefers to assist the FC-G5S bilaterally, and 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 Resolution|
|28 June 2019S/RES/2480||This renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2020, and included establishing as a second strategic priority that MINUSMA support government efforts to stabilise central Mali, and expanded the provision of MINUSMA life support consumables to all contingents in the G5 Sahel joint force.|
|8 May 2020S/2020/373||This was the biannual report on the G5 Sahel Joint Force.|
|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.|