Peace and Security in Africa - Security Council Open VTC

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05-Jun-2020 01:40:06
Terrorists capitalize on COVID-19 to erode state authority, attack national, international forces in Sahel, peacekeeping chief tells Security Council.

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African Members Emphasize Urgent Need to Boost Operational Capacity of G5 Sahel Joint Force, Humanitarian Relief for Displaced

COVID-19 has added a layer of complexity to the highly volatile security situation in the Sahel, with terrorists capitalizing on the pandemic to undermine State authority and launch unrelenting attacks against national and international forces, the head of United Nations peacekeeping told the Security Council in a 5 June videoconference meeting*.

“It will take years to rebuild affected communities in the Sahel, even under the best circumstances,” said Jean-Pierre Lacroix, Under-Secretary-General for Peace Operations. “In the face of such loss and devastation, we cannot be passive,” he emphasized. He was presenting the Secretary-General’s latest report on the situation (document S/2020/373), which outlines options for strengthening the joint force of the Group of Five for the Sahel (G5 Sahel) States — Burkina Faso, Chad, Malia, Mauritania and Niger.

He went on to note that the G5 Sahel has made “tangible and encouraging” progress since 2019, reforming its permanent secretariat and devising management and decision-making tools. It has strengthened the joint force through force‑generation efforts, revised its strategic concept of operations and established a joint command mechanism in Niamey, Niger, to enhance coordination with international forces. All these efforts have led to a major military operation, known as “Sama”, he said, adding that it is progressing well.

Against that backdrop, support from the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) has been critical, he stressed, noting that, in recent months, the consumption and disbursement rate of support provided by the Mission, and funded by the European Union, has increased from 21 per cent to almost 50 per cent. The European Union handed to the joint force its new temporary headquarters on 3 June, he said.

But, “the limitations of the current support model present significant obstacles”, he continued. “Transporting rations and fuel to joint force contingents remains the biggest challenge.” MINUSMA is operating at maximum capacity and “cannot go further” in its support under its current mandate and resources, he said, emphasizing that the current support model is not suited to address the transport and equipment shortages. Citing a recent Secretariat assessment, he said that among the options it presents is a comprehensive support package, which would include a United Nations office to provide logistical and operational support, funded through assessed contributions — or at least through a dedicated trust fund.

A second category of options would address immediate challenges, he said, adding that they would involve strengthening the joint force to procure and provide life support for its contingents, and to conduct medical evacuations outside Mali. Other options would require re-adjusting the support model to allow other partners to contract their own companies for the delivery of life support closer to the joint force’s areas of operations, authorizing MINUSMA to deliver life-support supplies beyond its area of operations, and expanding Mission’s engineering support.

He went on to reiterate the Secretary-General’s call for a comprehensive support package, funded through assessed contributions, which would allow for predictable and sustainable support that would easily phase out and render the joint force autonomous. Expecting more from MINUSMA in addressing the transport gaps would require expanding its mandate, securing additional resources and carrying out continuous fundraising, he pointed out. “The G5 Sahel joint force is on the right track, but there is still a long way to go,” stressing that strengthening it is only one strand of the comprehensive international approach required to tackle the causes of instability in Mali and the wider Sahel region.

Improving governance, ending poverty and protecting the human rights of all citizens remain critical, he continued, underlining the need for efforts to integrate the obligations of international human rights and international humanitarian law into the planning, conduct and review of military operations. “The international community can only be successful in the fight against terrorism if we stand united and follow a comprehensive, joint approach,” he said. “We have a shared responsibility for the Sahel.”

Ismael Ould Cheikh Ahmed, Mauritania’s Minister for Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, spoke in his country’s capacity as President of the G5 Sahel, stressing that a diabolical alliance between terrorist groups and drug traffickers, the structurally damaging consequences of climate change and chronic poverty have resulted in the spread of violence across the visibly deteriorating security landscape. As violence spreads to new territories every day, the security threat sweeping the Sahel is both a local and global problem, deserving an international response, he asserted.

Reiterating the Sahel States’ request that the Security Council include the joint force in its Chapter VII considerations, he said that, while awaiting its decision, vigorous action is needed to reconquer abandoned territories and rescue populations in distress, with the goal of restoring the protective State and public services that are essential to people’s lives. The Coalition for the Sahel’s political, strategic and operational framework, he added, is centred on four pillars: fighting terrorism; reinforcing military capacities; supporting the return of the State in crisis zones; and development aid. While thanking all partners for their support, he pointed out that the mobilization of funds for priority investment programme does not yet meet expectations.

He went on to outline G5 Sahel priorities, including efforts aimed at strengthening the operational capacities of the joint force, air forces, internal security forces and State presence in sensitive areas. Initiatives also focus on the Emergency Development Programme, Integrated Priority Action Framework, support for empowering populations, employing young Sahelians and strengthening regional integration. Other goals focus on strengthening intra- and intercommunity dialogue by promoting political, religious and social dialogue; by developing education and awareness of the radicalization phenomenon among young people; and by building the necessary trust between defence and security forces and the population. In addition, decisions must be made about what kind of future to build amid the COVID-19 crisis, he emphasized.

Highlighting progress in strengthening the operational capacities of the joint force, he said that a €238 million contribution from the European Union included armoured vehicles, material for protecting against improvised explosive devices and communications equipment. However, long-term funding is needed, he said, noting that training combatants and executives remains a major challenge. He went on to welcome the support provided by Operation Barkhane.

Meanwhile, achieving full capacity requires the joint force to fully understand the dimension of human rights, international humanitarian law and relationships of trust with the people, he said. In terms of operationalizing the joint force, he called attention to several actions already carried out, including the installation and activation of the Joint Command Post in Niamey. Among more than 20 actions, the joint force mounted a large-scale operation on the Mali‑Burkina Faso-Niger border, which won it control of the area as it neutralized armed terrorist groups there, he said. Support from all partners is crucial, he emphasized.

Implementation of the MINUSMA-European Union Training Mission-joint force tripartite agreement will significantly strengthen the capacities of the joint force, he continued. Recalling the recent inauguration of the third joint force command post in Mali, built by MINUSMA with funds made available by the European Union, he expressed support for extending and strengthening the Mission’s mandate. Describing the Sahel as a region where almost all the world’s problems converge, he declared that it nevertheless has the will to rise and become a region of promise and opportunity.

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