Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force
Expected Council Action
In May, the Council is expected to hold a briefing on the Joint Force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (FC-G5S), formed in 2017 by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger (G5 Sahel) to combat terrorist and criminal groups in the region.
Key Recent Developments
The security situation in the Sahel continued to deteriorate. Fighting in Chad between government forces and rebels invading from Libya resulted in the death of President Idriss Déby on 19 April, leading to concerns about the stability of the country, which has been critical to international efforts to combat terrorist groups in the Sahel. Meanwhile, Niger has suffered a surge of attacks against civilians since January.
Chad held presidential elections on 11 April, in which Déby appeared to have won a sixth term. That same day, a rebel group, the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT), attacked from Libya, seeking to advance on Chad’s capital, N’Djamena. The group, led by Mahamat Mahdi Ali and made up of mostly ethnic Gorane people, have been fighting in Libya’s war since 2016.
On 20 April, the government announced that Déby had died from wounds sustained while on the frontlines about 300 kilometres north of N’Djamena. The army said a transitional military council led by Déby’s 37-year-old son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, would take power for 18 months until elections could be held. Opposition parties decried the creation of the council as a “coup d’état” since it did not follow constitutional rules for succession, under which the Speaker of the National Assembly becomes interim president. At least two people were killed and 27 injured during demonstrations on 26 April by protestors demanding civilian rule. That same day, the military appointed a civilian politician, Albert Pahimi Padacké, as transitional prime minister.
The AU Peace and Security Council (PSC) met on 22 April on Chad and, among other things, recalled the relevant provisions of the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the Lomé Declaration, urging a swift, peaceful, constitutional and smooth transition. In this regard, the AUPSC decided to dispatch a fact-finding mission to N’Djamena “to support the investigation into the killing of the late President and ascertain the efforts to restore constitutionalism”. On 29 April, Security Council members held an informal interactive dialogue on foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya that included discussion on the situation in Chad, with the permanent representative of Chad participating and updating members on developments.
In Niger, suspected Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) militants raided the ethnic Zarma villages of Tchamo-Bangou and Zaroumdareye in the Tillabéri region near Mali on 2 January, killing over 100 civilians and wounding at least 26. The attack was reportedly in retaliation for the killing of several ethnic Fulani civilians or ISGS members in the same villages. OCHA said that the 6 January attack displaced about 10,600 people. In a spate of deadly attacks in the second half of March, assailants killed at least 58 civilians on 15 March in Banibangou in Tillabéri, and at least 137 civilians were killed in an assault on a series of villages on 21 March in the Tahou region.
Niger held the second round of its presidential election on 21 February. Ruling party candidate Mohamed Bazoum won, and on 2 April, Niger recorded its first peaceful transfer of power between two elected governments. Days earlier, presidential guards thwarted an attempted coup d’état when a military unit reportedly assaulted the presidential palace on the night of 30-31 March.
Ten UN peacekeepers and one UN contractor were killed in Mali between January and April. On 13 April, the leader of the Coordination of Azawad Movements (CMA), Sidi Brahim Ould Sidati, was killed in Bamako by unidentified individuals, triggering concerns about the impact of his death on implementing the 2015 Peace and Reconciliation Agreement between the government and northern armed groups. On 15 April, Mali’s transitional authorities announced that presidential and legislative elections would be held on 27 February 2022, with a possible second round in March. The schedule complies with the timetable brokered last year by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) for restoring constitutional order.
More than one million people remain displaced, and 3.5 million require assistance in Burkina Faso because of violence by terrorist groups. UN officials warned Council members at briefings on conflict-induced hunger in November 2020 and in March about pockets of famine in Burkina Faso. According to media reports, talks between the government and terrorist groups in some parts of the country may be responsible for a decrease in violence and fewer civilian deaths over recent months. Burkina Faso held its presidential election on 22 November 2020, with voters re-electing President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré.
On 15 and 16 February 2021, a summit of the G5 Sahel was held in N’Djamena. At the meeting, President Déby announced the immediate deployment of 1,200 Chadian troops to the tri-border area in Niger with Burkina Faso and Mali. There had been speculation that France might announce troop reductions in Operation Barkhane, its 5,100-strong counter-terrorism force in the Sahel. However, French President Emmanuel Macron, who participated in the summit virtually, announced that France would not downsize until at least mid-2022. He also called for a “civilian surge” to complement military efforts and expressed continued opposition to dialogue with jihadist leaders.
At the Council’s 6 April briefing on Mali, Niger announced on behalf of the three African Council members and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines (A3 plus one) that they would propose a draft resolution in June to establish a UN office to support the FC-G5S. The Secretary-General has long recommended that the Council authorise a UN office to provide a logistical support package to the FC-G5S, similar to the one for the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). Niger also said that the A3 plus one would request the Secretary-General to provide more information by the end of May on the modalities and needs for setting up a support office.
Key Issues and Options
Taking stock of progress and challenges in making the FC-G5S fully operational remains a key issue for the Council, which is addressed by these briefings on the joint force. The Secretary-General’s report on the FC-G5S last year described an increase in its “operational tempo”; it seems that his upcoming report will say that this has been sustained.
In this regard, a critical issue remains how to increase international support for the FC-G5S. The results of an assessment of MINUSMA’s support for the joint force, which includes the provision of life consumables and some logistical assistance, is expected to be included in the Secretary-General’s upcoming report on the FC-G5S. The Secretary-General continues to recommend that to have sustainable and predictable funding for the FC-G5S, the Council should authorise a UN logistical support package under a Chapter VII mandate, funded at least partially by UN assessed contributions.
Ways to support the FC-G5S may be considered when members discuss how to improve MINUSMA’s role during the mission’s June mandate renewal, and options to enhance bilateral assistance, along with commencing negotiations on a draft resolution to establish a UN support office.
The FC-G5S’ compliance with international humanitarian law and the UN human rights due diligence policy, which is necessary for MINUSMA support, is another key issue. Abuses or violations of international humanitarian law by other national and international forces in the Sahel are a related issue. At the briefing, members may emphasise the need for security forces to uphold their obligations under international humanitarian law.
Complementing security measures by strengthening efforts to address structural causes of instability in the Sahel—such as underdevelopment, poor governance and climate change—through the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) and the G5 Sahel Priority Investment Programme is also an important issue. In January, the Secretary-General appointed Abdoulaye Mar Dieye of Senegal as Special Coordinator for development in the Sahel to boost implementation of the UNISS. An option is to invite Dieye to brief at the upcoming Council session on the joint force.
The unfolding situation in Chad and how this could affect its military commitments in the region and the security situation in the Sahel is another critical issue. Chad’s military is considered the most effective among Sahel countries, deploying forces to Mali as part of MINUSMA, to Nigeria and Niger at times to fight the terrorist group Boko Haram, and most recently to the FC-G5S to reinforce its central zone of operations.
Council members consider the FC-G5S an important component in a comprehensive approach to stabilising the Sahel, which also includes support for strengthening state institutions and development. Led by Niger, the A3 plus one are expected to make a strong push to authorise a UN logistical support package. The Council, though, has been divided over the idea. For this reason, it has put on hold since 2018 its consideration of the Secretary-General’s proposal for a support package. The US, supported by the UK, has long objected to using UN assessed contributions for non-UN missions. It previously agreed to a UN support package for AMISOM on an “exceptional basis”. The US instead prefers to assist the FC-G5S bilaterally.
Several Council members contribute to other security initiatives in the region, including MINUSMA, Operation Barkhane and Takuba Task Force—made up of European special forces deployed to Central Mali—as well as to EU training and capacity-building missions and regional development initiatives.
France has served as the penholder on the FC-G5S, while the A3 plus one appear poised to lead negotiations on a new draft resolution.
UN DOCUMENTS ON THE G5 SAHEL JOINT FORCE
|Security Council Resolution|
|29 June 2020S/RES/2531||This renewed the mandate of MINUSMA until 30 June 2021.|
|2 November 2020S/2020/1074||This was a Secretary-General’s report on the G5 Sahel Joint Force.|
|2 June 2020S/2020/476||This was a Secretary-General’s report on MINUSMA, including the findings from a Secretariat review on MINUSMA support to the G5 Sahel Joint Force.|