UN resolution would authorize Sahel force against extremists

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France circulated a U.N. Security Council resolution Tuesday that would authorize military action by five countries in Africa's vast Sahel region against extremist groups.

Presidents of the five countries — Niger, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania — agreed in February to set up a joint force. Initially, it is expected to comprise up to 5,000 military, civilian and police personnel, with headquarters in Mali.

France's U.N. ambassador, Francois Delattre, told reporters that the African Union and the presidents of the five nations asked the Security Council to authorize the force. Council experts are expected to start discussing the draft Wednesday and it could be put to a vote next week.

"We cannot afford to let the Sahel region become a new safe haven for terrorists from across the world," Delattre said. "The terrorist threat in the Sahel region threatens not only the region itself but ... international peace and security."

The draft resolution strongly condemns the activities of "terrorist organizations" in Mali and the wider Sahel. It also notes serious challenges posed by transnational organized crime in the region, "including arms and drug trafficking, the smuggling of migrants, trafficking in persons, and its increasing links, in some cases, with terrorism."

It would authorize deployment of the force for a year, with a mandate to "combat terrorism, drug trafficking and trafficking in persons," contribute to restoring state authority and helping the return of displaced people and refugees, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

The draft would authorize the force "to use all necessary means to implement its mandate," while underlining "the primary responsibility of the G5 Sahel states to protect civilians."

The proposed resolution welcomes the European Union's decision to provide 50 million euros to support the force and urges other countries and organizations "to provide adequate logistical, operational and financial support."

It urges the force to coordinate and exchange information with France's Operation Barkhane, which has about 4,000 soldiers fighting extremists in Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, and the more than 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping force in Mali.

Most of the West African extremist groups being fought by France trace their origins to al-Qaida's North Africa branch. But there are also extremists linked to the Islamic State group and Boko Haram.