Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates committed 130 million euros ($152.75 million) on Wednesday to a French-backed West African military force aimed at tackling extremist militants.
The G5 Sahel - composed of the armies of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad - launched a symbolic military operation to mark its creation in October amid growing unrest in the region, whose porous borders are regularly crossed by extremists, including affiliates of al-Qaeda and ISIS
To give the force a boost, French President Emmanuel Macron hosted the leaders of the five participating countries, Germany and Italy as well as the Saudi and Emirati ministers at a summit.
The military force must secure its first victories by the middle of 2018 to prove its worth and ensure more concrete support from the United Nations, the French and Malian leaders said on Wednesday.
“As far as the G5 are concerned, we are aware that the clock is ticking,” Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta told a news conference after the summit of some 15 nations to discuss the force’s implementation.
“There is an urgency today that we quickly achieve results in the fight against terrorism,” he said, warning of a possible extremist rush from the Middle East to West Africa.
Saudi Arabia on Wednesday confirmed it would provide 100 million euros for the force, while the UAE will provide 30 million euros, bringing commitments to more than half the amount targeted. A separate donor conference is to be held on February 23.
“Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are interested in the Sahel. Getting a seat at the table, being seen as security stakeholders, is something that fits in their respective strategies,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a geopolitics researcher at Paris 8 University.
France, which has some 4,000 troops in the region, has bemoaned that the militants have scored military and symbolic victories in West Africa while the G5 force has struggled to win financing and become operational.
Thousands of UN peacekeepers, French troops and US military trainers and drone operators have failed so far to stem the growing wave of extremist violence, leading world powers to pin their hopes on the new force.
Despite French efforts, US reluctance at the United Nations has meant the force does not have direct financial backing from the UN making it harder to secure almost $500 million in initial funding for the operation and much-need equipment.
Macron sees the full implementation of the G5 force as a long-term exit strategy for his own forces that intervened in 2013 to beat back an insurgency in northern Mali.
“We have a very simple objective which is to have the first victories in the first half of 2018,” Macron said. He added that the aim was to ensure 5,000 men were ready by then.
Macron said he wanted to push the Security Council to divert funds from the more than 10,000-strong MINUSMA peacekeeping force in Mali to the G5.
One notable absence in Paris was Algeria. Authorities in Paris are concerned it is not fully cooperating in tackling militants roaming along its border or pushing the implementation of Malian peace talks that it brokered.
“All those who want to take part in the Sahel coalition are welcome. I went to Algeria last week and I invited Algeria to cooperate more actively to the work today. It’s Algeria’s decision, but I want (their help),” Macron said in reply to a journalist’s question.
Algiers remains suspicious of military activity by its former colonial ruler near its border.
Prime Minister Ahmed Ouyahia has said the mission duplicates existing activities since Algeria has already been coordinating counter-terrorism efforts with the G5 for over 10 years.
The Security Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday that will enable the UN peacekeeping force in Mali to provide support to the new 5,000-troop African force that is charged with fighting extremists in western Africa's vast Sahel region.
The French-drafted resolution asks Secretary General Antonio Guterres to quickly conclude a technical agreement to have Mali's peacekeepers provide operational and logistical support to the five-nation African force.
The support includes medical evacuation, supply of fuel, water and rations, and the use of UN engineering units to establish camps in Mali.