Mauritania offers training against terror in Sahel

While Salafi-jihadist groups have not held territory in the Sahel like the Islamic State did in Libya, Syria and Iraq, they have maintained a presence in the region.
Sunday 21/10/2018
A Malian Army soldier stands guard at the entrance of the G5 Sahel headquarters in Sevare, Mali, last May. (AFP)
On watch. A Malian Army soldier stands guard at the entrance of the G5 Sahel headquarters in Sevare, Mali, last May. (AFP)

TUNIS - A UAE-funded military academy in Mauritania has begun training senior officers of a five-nation African military force to fight terrorism in the Sahel region.

The academy is named for UAE Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who is seen as a leading force behind a trans-border campaign against Islamist extremism. It started a 9-month training programme for military officers from Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad, Mali and Mauritania on October 15. Those countries make up G5 Sahel, a regional task force for security cooperation based in Mauritania.

The trainees, all active officers with at least 15 years of military service, are to be trained to lead operations against Islamist insurgents in desert areas.

While Salafi-jihadist groups have not won insurgencies or held territory in the Sahel like the Islamic State did in Libya, Syria and Iraq, they have maintained a presence in the region.

The Sahel, an area of central and western Africa between the Sahara and the Sudanese Savannah, largely lacks centralised authority, making it a breeding area for extremist groups.

The African military officers are to work through the framework of the G5 Sahel, which has been led by Mauritania’s deputy chief-of-staff of the army, General Hanena Ould Sidi, since July.

The G5 force is largely funded by Arab states, the United States and France, which have strategic interests in the region. Saudi Arabia pledged $100 million to the anti-terror body, the United Arab Emirates $30 million and the United States and France a combined $68 million.

The focus on equipping the regional anti-terror force comes as states look to improve pre-emptive strategies to avert terrorism, even in remote regions. Sahel G5 has been slow in carrying out its mission due to funding delays and a lack of coordination between members.

The region has relied on the presence of 4,000 French troops deployed there since 2013 and UN peacekeepers to keep the terror threat at bay. UN peacekeepers have frequently been attacked in northern Mali, where extremist groups have gained strength.

Sahel G5 officially began its anti-terror campaign in October 2017 but a jihadist attack on its headquarters in Sevare, Mali, last June demonstrated the need for extra manpower and planning.

Algeria, the main Arab military power bordering the Sahel, dismissed French calls to participate in the group. Algiers, which provides aid and support to Mali, Niger and other Sahel countries, urged foreign military forces to leave the region, arguing that outside intervention would not uproot jihadism until local populations’ demands for economic development and security were met.

Several African countries are part of the Saudi-led Islamic Military Counterterrorism Alliance, which includes more than 40 Muslim-majority countries jointly battling terrorism and extremism.

Violence by groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the sparsely populated Sahel has risen in recent years, with armed factions exploiting the security vacuum in southern Libya and northern Mali to carry out attacks as far as Lake Chad and the area where the borders of Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali meet.

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