The Joint Counter-Terrorist Forces, initiatives with uncertain results

AA / Cotonou / Abraham Kwame

The history of the joint forces against terrorism began at the end of 2014 with the Joint Multinational Force against Boko Haram. Composed of about ten thousand men, it was set up by the countries of the Lake Chad Basin (Nigeria, Chad, Niger and Cameroon) and Benin.

In March 2015, the African Union validated its creation by placing it under the supervision of the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC). Its headquarters is in Ndjamena, the Chadian capital and since its creation it has been commanded by Nigerian generals.

– The Joint Force against Boko Haram: mixed results after seven years of existence.

In a report published in July 2020, the International Crisis Group (ICG), notes that the force has made “some progress”. “Joint operations helped stem the expansion of Boko Haram in 2015 and 2016, and put pressure on the group, which split into three factions,” it reads.

According to the document, this winning trend continued through 2019. humanitarian aid,” adds ICG.

However, the Force failed to eradicate the threat. So far, the Boko Haram group and its splinter faction, the Islamic State in West Africa, remain active in the countries of the Lake Chad Basin, although attacks have diminished in scale.

According to Cameroonian researcher Aristide Mono, the Force’s operations have not lived up to expectations.

“There is a real problem of total integration of the different contingents within the Multinational Force” notes the Doctor of Political Science and expert in the sociology and anthropology of security.

He recalls that only the Chadian forces used the right of pursuit, consisting in tracking down terrorist fighters beyond their borders. Dr Mono believes that Nigeria has not really invested in the success of this force project to fight the Boko Haram group based in Borno State in the northeast of the country.

“There was certainly a coalition of forces with the creation of an institution, however in reality, a lot of reluctance, a lot of mistrust was observed to the point where at one point, we were led to conclude that the Force Multinationale Mixte was a stillborn baby that lacked the means to hold out over time”.

– The G5 Sahel Joint Force, an army without the sinews of war

After this force which continues to fight terrorism in the Lake Chad basin, there was the creation of the G5 Sahel Joint Force.

It was set up in 2017 by Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Niger and Burkina Faso.

Its mission is to fight against the deterioration of the security situation and the expansion of terrorist groups in the region.

It is made up of just over five thousand soldiers from the five countries. However, according to several security experts, it presents a negative balance sheet.

For Soumaïla Lah, a teacher-researcher at the University of Bamako and specialist in security issues, the joint force of the G5 Sahel is a failure.

He believes that “the failure is mainly due to a problem of ownership by the G5 Sahel member states, which have remained more in a logic of seeking external funding, seeking support in external logistical terms than building their own capacities. of the armies and governance systems of the member countries of the G5 Sahel”.

Initially, the leaders of the organization drew up a budget of 425 million Euros to make the force fully operational. The five states directly concerned each provide 10 million, the European Union has undertaken to give a contribution of 50 million, the rest should be provided by international partners.

In February 2018, at the G5 Joint Force donor conference in Brussels, there were more than 400 million pledges of funding. In the end, only a small part of these funds was actually released.

“We are listened to politely, with a small knowing smile, but on arrival there is not much”, lambasted the former president of Mali, the late Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, on the sidelines of the forum on peace held in Paris in November 2019.

The funding problem is only one point among the obstacles that prevent the real operationalization of the Joint Force of the States of the Sahel.

Soumaïla Lah, who is also coordinator of the “Citizen Alliance for Security Sector Reform” in Mali, points out that the G5 Sahel countries have made a mistake by entrusting all the management of the process to external partners.

“All operational logistics were provided by France. Today this logistics is entrusted to the Minusma (the United Nations multidimensional integrated mission for stabilization in Mali) but the Minusma itself was supported by the French force Barkhane, so the problem is complete, ”analyzes Mr. Lah.

To make matters worse for the strength difficulties of the G5 Sahel, Mali decided to withdraw from the organization in May 2022. In a press release, we read that “The government of Mali decides to withdraw from all organs and bodies of the G5 Sahel, including the Joint Force”.

The Bamako authorities explain their decision by the refusal of certain member states to let their country ensure its turn in the rotating presidency of the organization.

“Already the G5 has started with a broken foot and the departure of Mali has definitely broken the other foot. Today Mali constitutes the Gordian knot of the terrorist presence in the Sahel and if it is not in coordination with the other States, all efforts are doomed to failure,” comments the teaching-researcher Soumaïla Lah .

Even if the future of the G5 Sahel Joint Force seems to be increasingly at the heart of the debates, Oumarou Paul Koalaga, a specialist in international relations and security issues in the Sahel, recalls that the G5 Sahel is an organization that also works on other issues. “The segments of infrastructure governance, prevention of radicalization and even research questions continue to operate and carry out their activities until now,” notes Mr. Koalaga for whom all has not failed.

– The Multinational Force of the ”Accra Initiative” forced to learn from the mistakes of others

The “Accra Initiative” is a mechanism launched in 2017 by Benin, Togo, Ghana, Burkina and Côte d’Ivoire. Its initial aim was to prevent the spread of violent extremism from the Sahel and to fight transnational organized crime in border areas.

In 2019, Mali and Niger joined this framework as observer members. Nigeria has also just been accepted as an observer member.

This melting pot of security cooperation has already enabled member countries to organize several joint anti-terrorist operations in border areas. In all, there were four editions of the operation called ”Koudanlgou”.

They made it possible to destroy several terrorist bases, to seize arms and ammunition, communication equipment and above all, to neutralize several terrorist fighters.

These operations mobilize thousands of soldiers from member countries.

For example, the “Koudanlgou IV” operation held over five days in November 2021, gathered according to data from the Burkinabe Ministry of Security, 5728 elements from the armies of Burkina Faso and Côte d’Ivoire, from Ghana and Togo. Among other things, it mobilized “881 rolling machines and six air vectors. »

The “Koudanlgou IV” resulted in the arrest of 300 suspects, 53 firearms and ammunition were recovered and 144 vehicles seized.

The countries of the ”Accra Initiative” which are already carrying out these joint operations have now decided to go further: the creation of a Joint Multinational Force.

For the moment, nothing official on its workforce or its means, only, at the summit of the Presidents of the “Accra Initiative” on November 22, 2022, the leaders of the organization promised to make the Force operational within one month.

Jeanine Ella Abatan, researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) says she is optimistic about this project.

She believes that “the fact that we have both Lake Chad Basin countries, Sahel countries and coastal countries in the ”Accra initiative” offers this framework for sharing experiences, for learn lessons and avoid certain mistakes that we have seen with the Force to fight against Boko Haram and that of the G5 Sahel”.

Ms. Abatan took part in the technical conference of the “Accra Initiative” which brought together security experts and civil society actors on November 17 and 18, 2022 in the Ghanaian capital.

It welcomes the decision of the Heads of the Initiative to rely first on their own means to finance the Multinational Force.

“If we want to fight this threat effectively, we must give ourselves the means to do so, even if these countries are not closed to external support. It’s already something to encourage,” she says.

Bréma Ely Dicko, a teaching-researcher at the University of Bamako was also worse off at the meeting of experts from the Initiative. He also says he is confident for this new joint force.

He points out that unlike the G5 Sahel Force, which is made up of rather weak armies and in the process of being recomposed with the exception of Chad and Mauritania, the Accra Initiative Force will be able to count on armies like that Ghana who are “more or less structured and trained”.

However, he notes a point which could be an obstacle to its effectiveness. “I’m not sure that countries like Burkina and Mali accept ‘initiative’ soldiers on their soil in a context where sovereignty is put forward. That’s the other equation to solve,” analyzes Dr. Dicko.

It invites the States, whatever their positions, to maintain the dialogue and to realize that the Sahel cannot fight alone against the threat because in the context of organized crime, important goods come through the ports .

– Also count with the ECOWAS anti-terrorist force project

Finally, three forces aiming for the same objective will now operate in West Africa and the Sahel, two regional spaces nested one inside the other.

According to the Senegalese researcher Ibrahima Kane, there will be a problem of effectiveness if all these forces have to be set in motion.

For him, the best option is to entrust the fight against terrorism to the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which already federates most of the countries engaged on these three fronts.

It therefore welcomes the decision of the 62nd summit of the organization, held on December 04, 2022, to set up a counter-terrorism force in the region.

“I imagine that if they decide today to involve ECOWAS, which was totally absent, it is because they ultimately intend to put an end to these initiatives.

The intervention of ECOWAS, its action will certainly be the most effective because directed by the regional organization responding to a certain number of needs but also based on a certain number of rules and principles of both the region and the continent. This could really help solve the problem,” he concludes.