West Africa to Assemble Military Force to Fight Militants

  • ‘A new terrorism’ is emerging, Mali defense minister says
  • UN peacekeeping mission in Mali is world’s deadliest

West African nations are preparing to set up a regional force to cope with increased Islamist attacks at their borders, Mali’s defense minister said.

Mali will provide 1,000 troops to the force that’s meant to number about 4,000 men, Defense Minister Tiena Coulibaly said on Friday. Mali and Niger will be the biggest contributors to the force, which will get soldiers from Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Chad, Coulibaly said in an interview in Ivory Coast’s commercial capital, Abidjan.

“A new terrorism is emerging at the borders,” Coulibaly said. “Terrorists can cross borders, carry out raids and withdraw. This is what’s happening at the border between Mali and Burkina Faso.”

There are already more than 10,000 United Nations peacekeepers in Mali, as well as a mobile French military force that operates across the region. French troops last week killed scores of militants hiding in a forest near the border between Mali and Burkina Faso. Despite the troops’ presence, militant attacks continue to increase in intensity and frequency.

Islamists based in northern Mali have carried out a spate of assaults in the past three months, including an attack with a vehicle laden with explosives that killed almost 80 people in a military camp in Gao, the deadliest since a 2012 insurgency threw the nation into turmoil. The violence has spilled over into Burkina Faso, where militants are threatening rural communities in the north, while militants that are believed to be based in Mauritania have struck twice across the border with Mali this year.

The group of five West African nations, known as G5 Sahel, will submit its proposal to the United Nations and aims to have the force operational this year, Coulibaly said. “We think it will go very quickly,” he said. The African Union approved the plan last month.

Coulibaly, a former ambassador to the U.S., joined Mali’s government last month after a cabinet reshuffle.

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