US opposes UN authorizing 5 countries to fight extremists

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The United States is opposing a French-drafted U.N. resolution that would authorize military action by five countries in Africa's vast Sahel region against extremist groups.

France's U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre says the African Union and the five countries — Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania, Niger and Chad — have asked for Security Council authorization for the force. He said this would be "the best tool" to combat extremism in the region.

France circulated a revised council resolution Friday that would authorize the force from the so-called Group of Five or G5, and wants a vote, hopefully next week.

But a U.S. official says that while the Trump administration supports the force in principle "as a potentially important example of African efforts to fight extremism," it doesn't believe a Security Council resolution is legally necessary for its deployment.

The official, speaking Friday on condition of anonymity because negotiations have been private, said the force already has a green light to go after extremists and "there is no compelling reason" to give it U.N. authorization under Chapter 7 of the U.N. Charter which is militarily enforceable.

The U.S. official said the G5 force should operate without U.N. approval, just as the task force operating in the Lake Chad Basin fighting Boko Haram does.

But supporters of a U.N. resolution say that force never asked for U.N. authorization while the AU and the G5 have requested Security Council approval. They also note that the council has authorized the African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, which is fighting al-Qaida-linked extremists of al-Shabab.

Italy's U.N. Ambassador Sebastiano Cardi, a Security Council member, said Friday the G5 are facing tough challenges fighting extremists, and they are also doing so on behalf of the international community.

"We think it's absolutely important that the council recognizes the efforts of the five Sahel countries, supports their efforts and validates the mission," he said. "These are poor countries. They are doing a lot. They need help."

The United States wants to cut $1 billion from the budget funding the U.N.'s far-flung peacekeeping operations for the year starting July 1, and while the draft resolution wouldn't authorize any money for the G5 force, it does ask Secretary-General Antonio Guterres to report to the Security Council in 60 days on options to support the Sahel troops.

The U.S. official, asked whether potential new funding was an issue, replied that the proposed resolution only asks for a report. The U.S. government is "generous" in assistance to the five Sahel countries, and thinks the G5 force should be modeled on the force fighting Boko Haram, the official said.

The revised draft resolution would still authorize the G5 force for a year, despite U.S. opposition. But it does address the proposed mandate of the Sahel troops which the U.S. official complained was "too broad" and "lacking precision."

The new draft specifies that the force should be authorized to take "all necessary measures to combat terrorist groups" associated with the Islamic State extremist group and al-Qaida, and other groups designated by the United Nations.