Saudi Arabia, the UAE back Sahel’s anti-terror initiative

The Riyadh-based Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IMCTC) is to support the G5 Sahel with training, intelligence and logistical support.
December 17, 2017
German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) and Chairman of the African Union Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat arrive for a news conference near Paris, on December 13

London - Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates threw their support behind France’s an­ti-terrorism initiative in Af­rica, pledging to financially back a fledgling anti-jihadist coali­tion in the Sahel.

Pledges from the Arab Gulf coun­tries came at a meeting hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron and attended by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, to generate backing for the G5 Sahel anti-terror coalition in West Africa.

The area includes Niger, Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso and Mauritania in a region that has become a hub for jihadist activity as well as drug and human trafficking.

Riyadh said it would contribute $118 million while Abu Dhabi is set to give $35 million, said Macron, whose country has been involved in coun­terterrorism operations in the Sahel for several years.

The Riyadh-based Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition (IM­CTC) is to support the G5 Sahel with training, intelligence and logistical support, Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said.

“Because of our commitment to fighting terrorism and extremism we made the commitment to provide 100 million euros [$117 million] to these forces and we made this com­mitment also to provide logistics, training, intelligence and air support through the Islamic military coali­tion to this effort,” Jubeir said in an interview with France 24 television.

France, under Macron, has taken centre stage in drumming up sup­port for the African military initia­tive, which included obtaining a UN resolution in support of it in June. The entity is to work in coordination with French military forces and the United Nations’ peacekeeping mis­sion in Mali.

“We must win the war against ter­rorism in the Sahel-Sahara region,” Macron said after the December 13 meeting. “There are attacks every day. There are states which are cur­rently in jeopardy.”

Merkel said: “Islamic terrorism is spreading. We cannot wait. We need to start leading the fight as soon as possible.”

A British government report pub­lished in May said the threat from the Sahel comes from several high-profile terrorist organisations, in­cluding Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, a group made up of rem­nants of other terrorist factions, as well as affiliates of the Islamic State (ISIS), Boko Haram and the African branch of al-Qaeda known as al-Qae­da in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM).

In November, Macron, saying im­plementation of the anti-terror force was not moving fast enough, urged the countries that had pledged fi­nancial support, including the Unit­ed States and Saudi Arabia, to deliver funding.

Since becoming the French presi­dent in May, Macron has tried to take a leading role in the Middle East and North Africa, stepping into the void created by the disengagement from the United States.

The move to support the African anti-terrorism initiative by Riyadh and Abu Dhabi is in line with GCC projects designed to tackle terror­ism. In December 2015, Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman bin Abdulaziz, then the deputy crown prince, announced the formation of the IMCTC, which includes 41 coun­tries and has the objective of eradi­cating terrorism.

“We will not allow them (terror­ists) to distort our peaceful religion. Today we are sending a strong mes­sage that we are working together to fight terrorism,” Crown Prince Mohammed said during a coalition meeting in November. “Today we affirm that we will pursue terrorism until it is eradicated completely.”