West African leaders pledge $1 billion to tackle terrorism

West African leaders on Saturday announced a billion-dollar plan to fight the rising problem of jihadist violence in the region, at a summit in Burkina Faso.

ISSOUF SANOGO / AFP | West African leaders meet in the capital of Burkina Faso on September 14, 2019 for a summit expected to lead to an overhaul of the flailing attempt to roll back jihadism in the Sahel region on 14 September, 2019.

The plan, to be funded from 2020 to 2024, was announced at end of the Economic Community Summit of West African States in Ouagadougou, where the ECOWAS nations were joined by Mauritania and Chad.

ECOWAS had decided to mobilise "the financial resources of up to a billion dollars for the fight against terrorism", said Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou.

The money, paid into a common fund, would help reinforce the military operations of the nations involved -- and those of the joint military operations in the region.

Full details of the plan would be presented to the next ECOWAS summit in December.

The fight against the rising tide of jihadist violence in the region has so far been hampered by a lack of funds.

The G5 Sahel, a joint taskforce, was created in 2014 to try to tackle the problem, backed by former colonial power France.

From July 2017, it pooled troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger in a bid to drive back the jihadist groups.

But a lack of finance, training and equipment, limited their effectiveness and their numbers. For the moment, the force numbers 4,000 troops, when 5,000 were originally planned.

Niger's Issoufou dismissed suggestions that the G5 Sahel taskforce was ineffective.

"The G5 is far from dead. The (summit's) final communique shows the support for it within ECOWAS," he said.

ECOWAS -- the Economic Community of West African States -- brings together 15 countries whose economies range from regional heavyweights Nigeria and Ivory Coast to the impoverished Liberia and Sierra Leone.

Landlocked Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger are non-coastal states.                

Humanitarian crisis            

At the start of the summit, the president of the ECOWAS Commission, Jean-Claude Brou, pointed to the mounting human, economic and political toll of the jihadist attacks.

"2,200 attacks in the last four years, 11,500 dead, thousands wounded... millions of displaced and economic activity has been greatly affected," he said.

Burkino Faso's president Roch Marc Christian Kabore argued that "threats transcend borders. No country is safe" and that "the escalation of violence has led to an unprecedented humanitarian crisis" in the Sahel.

On Thursday, two soldiers were killed in two simultaneous attacks in Burkina Faso's north, security sources told AFP, the latest in a series of deadly attacks on security forces in the landlocked West African nation.

Ivory Coast president Alassane Ouattara said "MINUSMA (the UN mission in Mali) and the G5 Sahel are not enough. We have to find wider and more effective means of coordination."

Niger's Issoufou also insisted that "the international community cannot turn a blind eye and must assume its responsibilities".

ECOWAS would also ask the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund to consider security spending as an "investment" and drum up support from Western and Arab donors in the fight against jihadism, he said.

Last week, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres similarly offered a grim view of the situation.

"I totally believe we are not winning the war against terrorism in the Sahel and that the operation should be strengthened," he said.

The scale of the challenge facing the G5 Sahel force is huge.

According to the US think-tank the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), the number of radical Islamist-linked attacks in the Sahel has doubled each year since 2016.

Last year, the tally was 465 -- more than one a day.


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