UN chief says G5 Sahel force deploying too slowly

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UNITED NATIONS, United States, May 9, 2018 (BSS/AFP) – UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Tuesday urged West African countries to speed up deployment of a regional force fighting jihadists in the Sahel region, warning that insurgents were seeking to strengthen their foothold.

Guterres said in a report to the Security Council that the G5 Sahel force should receive regular UN funding instead of contributions, reviving a debate with the United States over financial backing for the counter-terror operation.

With strong support from France, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger last year agreed to set up the 5,000-strong force to operate alongside France’s own Operation Barkhane and the UN peacekeeping force in Mali.

The Sahel force was projected to be fully up and running in March but that deadline was missed, mainly because of problems with training and equipment, the report said.

“The security situation in the Sahel continues to deteriorate,” Guterres said, pointing to recent attacks in Ouagadougou, Timbuktu and ongoing raids on local security forces.

Noting that “terrorist groups are attempting to gain influence and expand their presence,” Guterres said the “operationalization of the joint force is not progressing at the required speed.”

The UN chief urged the five countries to “deploy their remaining troops as quickly as possible and to resolve command and control issues” including transferring authority over their battalions to the force commander.

About 418 million euros ($570 million dollars) have been promised by European countries, the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Turkey to finance the regional force.

But Guterres said direct UN annual funding of the joint force was the “best option” to ensure long-term financing of the operation and urged the council to provide the needed resources.

The United States has backed bilateral funding for the Sahel force but opposed opening up a new budget envelope at the United Nations for the regional operation.

The council is scheduled to discuss the report at a meeting on May 23.

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