Burkina Faso minister warns terrorists gain ground in Sahel
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — The foreign minister of Burkina Faso warned Thursday that terrorist activity in Africa’s volatile Sahel region is gaining ground and there is “a very real risk” of destabilizing much of West Africa.
Alpha Barry told the Security Council that combatting terrorism in the Sahel is a fight “for the very survival” of the five countries that have joined forces to fight the Islamic State and other extremist groups — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.
“Terrorist groups are being financed by artisanal gold mines or various forms of trafficking and are still strong and exerting great pressure upon our states,” he said.
Barry said the five-nation G5 Joint Sahel Force “cannot succeed alone” and it’s time for the international community to consider creating an international coalition to address the challenge “with the same determination as was evident in Iraq and Afghanistan and other countries.”
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres in his latest report to the council again urged U.N. funding for the G5 force, and as a minimum for the U.N. to provide “life-support consumables” for all seven of the G5 battalions — not just the two in Mali where the U.N. has a peacekeeping mission.
The Security Council said it would explore the “consumables” request ahead of the renewal of the mandate for the Mali peacekeeping mission, which expires on June 30.
But Acting U.S. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen said the Trump administration continues to believe bilateral aid is the best way to support the G5 force and has committed approximately $111 million to G5 nations including for equipment and training. The U.S. opposes U.N. assessed funding and expanding delivery of “consumables,” he said.
Cohen said “the dire security situation” in the Sahel demands that the international community pursue more than security alone but address “the root causes of conflict, through coordinated humanitarian, health, agricultural, governance, and development assistance.”
Burkina Faso’s Barry said the security situation “remains worrisome and indeed is continuing to deteriorate.”
He pointed to Sunday’s terrorist attack on a church in his country that killed six people including the priest who was leading the mass, an ambush of a military convoy in Niger near the Mali border Thursday that killed 28 soldiers and was claimed by jihadists linked to the Islamic State group and the abduction of two French tourists in Benin who were taken to Burkina Faso where they were freed in an operation that took the lives of two French special forces soldiers.
“These examples can be complemented by numerous other attacks in Mali, Niger and other countries, and are proof of the persistent terrorist threat in the Sahel,” Barry said. “It is spreading and taking other forms whose consequences are equally dramatic.”
He said the fact that the abduction of the French tourists was in Benin, which is not in the Sahel, is a warning sign of the expanding terrorist threat.
Barry said the Sahel today is seeing dozens of victims every month from ambushes, abductions, targeted killings and attacks using improvised explosive devices. Since the beginning of 2019, he said, at least 300 people have died in “community conflicts” and there have also been attacks on schools and teachers and against “state symbols” and markets as well as the theft of cattle.
“The Sahel countries are facing an uncontrollable humanitarian situation,” he said, with over half a million children in Mali and Burkina Faso together deprived of schooling, and around 150,000 people in Burkina Faso and 600,000 in Chad displaced by fighting and insecurity.
“It is also time for the international community to take a clear stance on resolving the Libyan crisis,” Barry said. “Libya is still a breeding ground of terrorists and criminals of all stripes, and is thus the main destabilizing element in our region.”
He said the G5 Sahel Joint Force, which was established in 2017, “is still a long way from achieving its full operational capacity” though it has carried out seven operations since January.
“Combatting terrorism and other related criminal activities in the Sahel region is a collective responsibility,” Barry stressed.