In Stratfor's Fourth-Quarter Forecast, we said that France would continue to devote significant political capital and resources to the newly formed G5 Sahel Force military group — made up of battalions from Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Mauritania and Niger. The Force is meant to gradually reduce France's security burden in the region. However, it is struggling to fund itself, which could delay it becoming operational, putting France's plans on hold.
Plans for countries in Africa's Sahel region to take more ownership of security operations have already hit snags. On Oct. 19, ambassadors from the U.N. Security Council landed in Mali to begin a fact-finding trip that will also take them to Mauritania and Burkina Faso. The group will evaluate the progress of the G5 Sahel Force, a burgeoning counterterrorism force that will eventually comprise several battalions, totaling 5,000 local soldiers from Chad, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger and Mauritania.
Africa's Sahel region is prone to political instability and has historically been a hotbed for terrorism. In recent years, Western nations — particularly France, a former Sahel colonizer — have intervened to help stabilize the region. But France has been trying to reduce its international defense burden and has poured resources into the Sahel Force in the hopes it can takeover security efforts. It has also worked to convince other Western countries to do the same. Some progress on that front was made when the U.N. Security Council unanimously passed a resolution financing the Sahel Force, but, because of U.S. objections to additional U.N. spending obligations, the resolution passed was a watered-down version of the one France originally proposed.
Yet, the incipient force is not without hope. Recently, U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres released a report that outlined three options for future international support for the force. The most active option proposed that the United Nations establish an office to support the Sahel Force through the African Union (something that the United Nations has already done in Somalia). The African Union would also provide intelligence-gathering technology and air transport for medical purposes. The second option calls for reinforcing the Mali peacekeeping force, commonly known as MINUSMA, to strengthen its logistical support. This initiative would have the most immediate benefit, since the Sahel Force based its headquarters in northern Mali. (Mali has become the center of the region's terrorism problems.) The least active option calls for broadening support for the Malian armed forces, excluding the involvement of other Sahel countries.
For the time being, France will be instrumental in holding the Sahel region together. Ensuring that the Sahel Force becomes fully functional will be a big step toward finding regional solutions for regional problems, but France has faced considerable political and financial setbacks in getting the Force up and running. For that reason, even with the additional support that it seeks, France is still years away from being able to reduce its military footprint in the Sahel.