UNITED NATIONS – Mali's foreign minister urged the U.N. Security Council on Friday to authorize the immediate deployment of a five-nation force to fight the growing "terrorist" threat in Africa's vast Sahel region — a move the United States opposes.
Abdoulaye Diop told the council that Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita, acting president of the so-called Group of Five or G5, is deeply concerned at the difficulties the French-drafted resolution is facing in the council.
Leaders of the G5 — Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad — created the joint force to fight terrorism, trans-national organized crime and human trafficking, and its deployment is only awaiting Security Council authorization, he said.
A U.S. official said earlier this month that while the Trump administration supports the force in principle, it doesn't believe a Security Council resolution is legally necessary for its deployment.
The U.S. is seeking to cut $1 billion from the U.N. peacekeeping budget and diplomats say the administration doesn't want a new U.N. missions that could add to costs. The draft resolution asks Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to present options to the Security Council to finance the G5 force.
A 2012 uprising was blamed for prompting mutinous soldiers to overthrow Mali's president of a decade, creating a power vacuum that ultimately led to an Islamic insurgency and a French-led war that ousted the jihadists from power in 2013. But Jihadists remain active in the region, frequently attacking Malian and French soldiers as well as U.N. peacekeepers trying to stabilize the north.
Diop urged the council to authorize the G5 force "without delay" to protect people in the five countries "from the danger of terrorism, and thus protect the rest of the world from a real threat to regional and international peace."
He said "peace in Mali and stability in the Sahel" should be viewed broadly as resting on four pillars — Mali's determination to implement peace and reconciliation agreements, a strengthened U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali, support from a separate French force combating terrorism in Mali, and deployment of the G5 force to take over the regional terrorist fight.
While Mali has made progress toward peace, Diop said the country faces multiple challenges.
He said the U.N. force, known as MINUSMA, has retained "a static, defensive posture which has given freedom of movement to terrorist and extremist groups."
"They have made the most of this in order to better organize and increase attacks on the civilian population, the Mali defense force and against foreign forces as well," Diop said.
"The security situation in Mali and in the Sahel continues to deteriorate in a concerning fashion," he said. "The situation is marked by the persistence and intensification of terrorist attacks. These are a main obstacle to the implementation of the peace solution."
The Security Council needs to renew MINUSMA's mandate soon, and Diop said it needs additional equipment, funds and personnel to carry out its mandate.
The U.N. envoy for Mali, Mahamat Saleh Annadif, stressed that the mission's main mandate is to help protect civilians, not fight extremists which requires specialized skills and equipment. He backed U.N. authorization for the G5 force.
MINUSMA only has 10 helicopters and needs 12 additional attack and utility helicopters, as well as additional armored vehicles, Annadif said.
Recent months saw "significant, tangible progress" in implementing Mali's peace accords, he said.
But Annadif he warned that all the positive developments "are liable to collapse" due to tensions between a government-allied militia known as the Platform and a coalition of groups known as the CMA which includes ethnic Arabs and Tuaregs and seeks autonomy in northern Mali.