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