What's In Blue

Posted Mon 17 May 2021

G5 Sahel Joint Force: Briefing and Consultations via VTC

Tomorrow (18 May), Security Council members will hold a videoconference (VTC) briefing, followed by VTC consultations, on the Group of Five for the Sahel Joint Force (FC-G5S), which is comprised of forces from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. The expected briefers are Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations Jean-Pierre Lacroix; Chadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chérif Mahamat Zene, on behalf of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel); Force Commander of the FC-G5S, General Oumarou Namata Gazama of Niger; and Peacebuilding Commission (PBC) Chair, Ambassador Mohamed Fathi Ahmed Edrees (Egypt). Under-Secretary-General for Operational Support Atul Khare is expected to brief during the closed consultations.

Lacroix will present the Secretary-General’s latest report on the FC-G5S, dated 10 May. The security situation in the Sahel continues to deteriorate. The tri-border area of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger remains a hotspot for terrorist attacks, despite the pressure of counterterrorism operations in the area and amidst fighting between Al-Qaida affiliated Jama’a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS). Niger’s western region in particular has seen a surge of attacks against civilians, with three major attacks since January killing over 300 people. A recent upsurge in violence in Burkina Faso, where there is a threat of famine which is linked to the insecurity, killed 45 and displaced 17,500 people over a ten-day period since late April 2021, according to UNHCR. The Secretary-General’s report warns about the threat of further destabilisation in the Sahel and the possible spread of insecurity to West African coastal states.

Lacroix is likely to note that the FC-G5S continues to grow in strength and is becoming increasingly operational. However, as the Secretary-General’s report notes, the FC-G5S faces “major challenges to its operational and logistical capacities” while “equipment shortfalls remained a daily concern”. General Namata Gazama’s briefing will be the first time that the FC-G5S force commander participates at one of the Council’s biannual briefings on the force, which will provide Council members with an opportunity to learn more about these operations.

Tomorrow’s meeting comes as Council members have restarted discussions on authorising a dedicated UN office to support the FC-G5S, which the Secretary-General first recommended in 2017 to facilitate more predictable funding for its operations. During the Council’s 6 April briefing on Mali, Niger announced on behalf of the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) that they will propose a draft resolution in June to establish a UN office to support the FC-G5S. This is an idea that has long divided Council members, as the UK and the US object to using UN assessed contributions to support non-UN missions. Because of this dynamic, members recently were unable to agree on sending a letter to the Secretary-General that would have requested more information on the modalities and needs for setting up a support office.

Khare is expected to note in his briefing during the consultations that a support office is logistically workable, and that the Secretary-General is ready to provide more details through a written report or note. The UN Department of Operational Support has for over a decade led an office that provides logistical support to the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

At present, the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) provides operational and logistical support to the FC-G5S, for which it is reimbursed by the EU. Operational support involves providing life consumables such as rations and fuel to the FC-G5S, and logistical support including engineering, medical and casualty evacuation (MEDEVAC/CASEVAC) capacity for FC-G5S units in Mali.

The Secretary-General’s report on the FC-G5S contains an assessment of this support model, including of the human rights due diligence capacity and the prospects of strengthening the procurement capacity of the G5 Sahel. According to the FC-G5S, which was consulted during the assessment, logistical support should be extended to the other G5 Sahel countries, especially considering the high level of attacks in the tri-border area, which the G5 Sahel considers could only be done through a UN support office. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may state their positions about whether they support establishing a UN support office for the FC-G5S. Some members may further note the need to maintain MINUSMA’s role as the best option to support the FC-G5S until the Council can agree on a separate UN support office.

At tomorrow’s session, Council members are expected to underscore the need to complement security measures through a holistic approach that addresses issues of underdevelopment, governance and climate change (the latter which the Secretary-General’s report highlights as fueling intercommunal violence and displacing people across the region). In this regard, Edrees is expected to speak about the work of the PBC, which since 2017 has been involved in supporting the UN Integrated Strategy for the Sahel (UNISS) that was first developed in 2013 to address the region’s root causes of instability. Members may encourage greater progress in implementing the UNISS, among various initiatives, and welcome the appointment earlier this year of Abdoulaye Mar Dieye of Senegal as Special Coordinator for development in the Sahel to boost implementation of the UNISS.

Council members are also likely to raise concern regarding reported human rights violations by the FC-G5S. Some members, however, may also note encouraging signs by the FC-G5S in responding to such problems, such as the prompt response by the joint force and Chadian authorities promising investigations and prosecutions of allegations of rape by soldiers of the Chadian battalion that deployed to Niger in March.

Tomorrow’s meeting also comes amid the evolving situation in Chad. Fighting with rebels invading from Libya resulted in the death of President Idriss Déby on 19 April. The creation of a military council led by Déby’s son, General Mahamat Idriss Déby, to govern for an 18-month transition period until elections can be held led to opposition parties’ claims of a coup d’état. At least six people were killed by security forces and over 700 arrested during demonstrations against the military council on 27 April. Earlier this month, Déby appointed a 40-member transitional civilian government. The AU is closely monitoring the situation, which has prompted concerns about how these developments could affect Chad’s military commitments in the region and the security in the Sahel. Chad has played a key role in contributing forces to the FC-G5S, as well as MINUSMA in Mali and in the fight against Nigerian group Boko Haram.

Chad’s Permanent Representative to the UN updated Council members on the situation during a 29 April informal interactive dialogue on foreign fighters and mercenaries in Libya. Mahamat Zene could refer to these developments at tomorrow’s briefing.

For more on the G5-Sahel Joint Force, see this month’s brief in Security Council Report’s May Forecast.