The European Union says it plans to spend 50 million euros to finance the establishment of a joint African military force in the Sahel region with the declared aim of fighting terrorism, among other threats.
Announcing the bid in Mali’s capital of Bamako on Monday, the European Union’s foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said the bloc asserted that the funding will help pay for the troops’ battle against illegal immigration, cross-border crime and militant activity.
“Stability and development of the Sahel region are crucial not only for Africa but also for Europe,” said the EU’s top diplomat, noting that “this contribution will arrive very quickly and I hope (it) will set out the right path to other partners of the Sahel G5.”
The military force will be made up of troops from Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Niger, known as the Sahel G-5. The group approved plans in March to build a contingent of 5,000 members made up of soldiers, police officers as well as civilians.
However, Mali’s Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop stated on Monday that leaders of the five nations had decided the new force would consist of up to 10,000 soldiers and police officers and become operational by the end of the year.
“The heads of state of the Sahel G5 who met in Riyadh, [Saudi Arabia] just a few weeks ago decided to bring the number from 5,000 men to 10,000 men. This really shows their engagement because this is a vast area,” Diop declared.
Neither Mogherini nor Diop, however, elaborated on the role of the Saudi kingdom in the establishment of the African military force.
The initial decision to establish the G5 Sahel force in the semi-arid region south of the Sahara was made in November 2015, during a summit in Chad’s capital of N’Djamena.
More than 3,000 French military forces as well as 12,000 UN troops have been engaged in Mali – a former French colony — since 2013, when al-Qaeda-linked elements and Tuareg militants waged an insurgency in the north of the country.
Although the militants were largely driven out by a French-led military operation in January 2013, they continue to wage attacks on the country’s military forces in the arid remote north.
Since 2015, the attacks have spread to the center and south of the impoverished nation, often spilling over into neighboring countries, including Burkina Faso and Niger.