Posts Tagged ‘Mali’

France Seeks Funding at UN Monday For African Sahel Anti-Terror Military Force

October 30, 2017

AFP

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© Pascal Guyot, AFP | Malian soldiers patrol with French soldiers involved in the regional anti-insurgent Operation Barkhane in March 2016 in Timbamogoye.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-30

France is facing a tough diplomatic battle to convince the United States to lend UN support to a counter-terrorism force for Africa’s Sahel region, where insurgents have killed UN peacekeepers and US soldiers.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will lead a UN Security Council meeting on Monday that will look at ways of shoring up the G5 Sahel force set up by Burkina FasoChadMaliMauritania and Niger.

France wants donors to step up, but is also looking to the United Nations to offer logistic and financial support to the joint force — which is set to begin operations in the coming days.

The United States however is adamant that while it is ready to provide bilateral funding, there should be no UN support for the force.

“The US is committed to supporting the African-led and owned G5 Joint Force through bilateral security assistance, but we do not support UN funding, logistics, or authorization for the force,” said a spokesperson for the US mission.

“Our position on further UN involvement with respect to the G5 Sahel joint force is unchanged.”

The vast Sahel region has turned into a hotbed of violent extremism and lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

>> Video: Meet the French troops hunting jihadists in Sahel

Earlier this month, militants linked to the Islamic State ambushed and killed four US soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol with Nigerien soldiers near the Niger-Mali border.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali has lost 17 peacekeepers in attacks this year, one of the highest tolls from current peace operations.

Four options

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has come out in favor of multilateral backing, writing in a recent report that the establishment of the G5 force “represents an opportunity that cannot be missed.”

Guterres has laid out four options for UN support, from setting up a UN office for the Sahel to sharing resources from the large UN mission in Mali.

In response, US Ambassador Nikki Haley wrote to Guterres this month to reaffirm the US “no” to UN involvement, officials said. The United States is the UN’s biggest financial contributor.

ANALYSIS: FRANCE’S MACRON IN MALI TO BOOST REGIONAL ANTI-TERRORISM FORCE

The battle over UN backing for the Sahel force is shaping up as Haley is pushing for cost-saving measures after successfully negotiating a $600-million cut to the peacekeeping budget this year.

After leading a Security Council visit to the Sahel last week, French Ambassador Francois Delattre said most countries on the council want the United Nations to help.

“The key question now is not about the relevance of the G5 Sahel force, nor the need to support it, but it is about the best way to convey this support,” said Delattre.

A “mix of both multilateral and bilateral support” is needed, he said.

A long list of gaps

The price tag for the G5 force’s first year of operations is estimated at 423 million euros ($491 million), even though French officials say the budget can be brought down closer to 250 million euros.

So far, only 108 million euros have been raised, including 50 million euros from the five countries themselves. A donor conference will be held in Brussels on December 16.

“UN logistical support could make a big difference,” said Paul Williams, an expert on peacekeeping at George Washington University.

“To become fully operational, the force needs to fill a long list of logistical and equipment gaps,” he said — from funding for its headquarters to intelligence-sharing and medical evacuation capacities.

Williams said US reservations were not just about cost, but also about the mission’s operations, which Washington sees as ill-defined.

The G5 is “a relatively blunt military instrument for tackling the security challenges in this region, which stem from a combination of bad governance, underdevelopment and environmental change,” he explained.

“At best it might limit the damage done by some of the criminal networks and insurgents, but even then, its gains will not be sustainable without adequate funding.”

(AFP)

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France, U.N. Want Sahel Army To Fight Terrorism But U.S. Not Eager To Pay

October 30, 2017

Plan for 5-nation force in the Sahel strongly backed by France and Italy but funding resisted by Trump administration

Malian and French soldiers patrol during anti-insurgent operations in Tin Hama, Mali, 19 October.
 Malian and French soldiers patrol during anti-insurgent operations in Tin Hama, Mali, 19 October. Photograph: Benoit Tessier/Reuters

Unprecedented plans to combat human trafficking and terrorism across the Sahel and into Libya will face a major credibility test on Monday when the UN decides whether to back a new proposed five-nation joint security force across the region.

The 5,000-strong army costing $400m in the first year is designed to end growing insecurity, a driving force of migration, and combat endemic people-smuggling that has since 2014 seen 30,000 killed in the Sahara and an estimated 10,000 drowned in the central Mediterranean.

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The joint G5 force, due to be fully operational next spring and working across five Sahel states, has the strong backing of France and Italy, but is suffering a massive shortfall in funds, doubts about its mandate and claims that the Sahel region needs better coordinated development aid, and fewer security responses, to combat migration.

The Trump administration, opposed to multilateral initiatives, has so far refused to let the UN back the G5 Sahel force with cash. The force commanders claim they need €423m in its first year, but so far only €108m has been raised, almost half from the EU. The British say they support the force in principle, but have offered no funds as yet.

Western diplomats hope the US will provide substantial bilateral funding for the operation, even if they refuse to channel their contribution multilaterally through the UN.

France, with the support of the UN secretary general, António Guterres, and regional African leaders, has been pouring diplomatic resources into persuading a sceptical Trump administration that the UN should financially back the force.

In an attempt to persuade the Americans, Guterres warned in a report to the security council this month that the “region is now trapped in a vicious cycle in which poor political and security governance, combined with chronic poverty and the effects of climate change, has contributed to the spread of insecurity”.

Read the rest:

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2017/oct/30/new-400m-army-to-fight-human-traffickers-and-terrorists-faces-un-moment-of-truth

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Terror War: Battle in the African Sahel Comes Out of The Shadows

October 30, 2017
BY SETH J. FRANTZMAN
 OCTOBER 30, 2017 00:16

 

US soldiers fight alongside French forces and locals in Niger

A US special forces soldier demonstrates how to detain a suspect in Diffa, Niger.

A US special forces soldier demonstrates how to detain a suspect in Diffa, Niger.. (photo credit:REUTERS)

On October 4, four United States servicemen and five soldiers from Niger were killed in a battle with an estimated 50 members of an ISIS affiliate.

The US casualties are raising eyebrows in Washington, with senators reportedly “shocked” and “stunned” to find that the US has more than 1,000 personnel in Niger and neighboring countries.

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As controversies swirl, the US is being called upon to support UN backing for more counter- terrorism operations led by France in the Sahel, the area between the Sahara Desert to the north and the savannas region to the south.

According to a March document from the US Government Accountability Office, the US has greatly expanded its security presence abroad, especially in Africa, since the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“The US government has engaged in numerous efforts to build the capacity of foreign partners to address security-related threats,” the Government Accountability Office said, claiming it “identified 194 Department of Defense security cooperation and state security assistance efforts” that address security-related threats. A number of these programs are tailored specifically to confront the growing threat of terrorism in countries that border the Sahel. These include countries such as Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Cameroon, the Central African Republic and Ethiopia, which borders Somalia.

Between 1997 and 2012, the US provided training to 215,000 personnel from states in Africa. Since the establishment of an Africa Command in 2007, the focus has increasingly shifted to fighting terrorism alongside peacekeeping. The long list of US-supported programs include the Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund, the US Army’s African Land Forces Engagement Summit, a specific program for Support for Counterterrorism Operations in Africa, Peace Keeping Operations Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance, a “rapid response partnership” and a series of regional counterterrorism partnerships.

In the Sahara, the US “assists partners in West and North Africa to increase their immediate and long-term capabilities to address terrorist threats and prevent the spread of violent extremism,” according to the State Department. This includes efforts to “contain and marginalize” terrorist groups as well as “disrupt efforts to recruit, train and provision terrorists and extremists” and counterterrorist groups that seek to establish “safe havens.”

It was during one of these types of missions in October that something went awry. The 12 US soldiers were supposed to be part of an advise-and-assist mission with 30 soldiers from Niger.

Just before a raid targeting a terrorist commander, the target crossed into Mali and the joint US-Niger team, instead, went to search his abandoned camp. According to an October 23 US Defense Department press conference by Gen. Joseph Dunford, the soldiers drove 85 km. north from the capital of Niamey to the village of Tongo Tongo. The village is just across the border from the Reserve Partielle de Faune D’Ansongo-Menake in Mali and the Sahel reserve in Burkina Faso.

The US-Niger forces were ambushed after meeting with locals at a village. The enemy was well prepared with heavy machine guns, RPGs and driving on “technicals,” or trucks with machine guns mounted on the back.

The Americans radioed for assistance and an unarmed drone arrived overhead. Two hours after the battle began, French Mirage jets also came to assist. Eventually, the survivors were evacuated by the French military.

Despite efforts to downplay the incident, the picture that is painted is of a large shadow war on terrorism in Africa that goes relatively unreported in Western media. The ambush conjures up images of the battle of Black Hawk Down in 1993 in Somalia and the 2012 Benghazi attack in Libya, which led to the death of 19 and four Americans, respectively. Both attacks also led to political discussions and policy changes in Libya and Somalia, both of which are still plagued by terrorism. In mid-October, more than 300 people were killed in an attack in Mogadishu. Another 23 were murdered in an attack on October 28.

Niger is an example of a wider problem affecting the region. According to the US State Department, there are numerous terrorist groups in Niger, including Boko Haram, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb and ISIS. “Niger’s long borders and areas of harsh terrain made effective border security a challenge, specifically in the north, along the border with Algeria, Libya, and Mali.”

These ungoverned spaces allow AQIM and other groups to transit throughout the Sahel and Sahara. Considering how ISIS exploited the breakdown in Syria and Iraqi states to spread quickly in 2014, the role of ISIS among these other groups’ points to a worrisome phenomenon.

The danger of these groups sometimes goes unrecognized until it is too late. In 2012, Jean Herskovits, a professor of history at the State University of New York, wrote in The New York Times, “There is no proof that a well-organized, ideologically coherent terrorist group called Boko Haram even exists today.”

She urged against the US being drawn into a Nigerian war on terror because “placing Boko Haram on the foreign terrorist list would… make more Nigerians fear and distrust America.” Five years later, Boko Haram is still making headlines with its massacres, including recent reports on how it straps suicide bombs to girls.

Now the US is debating a French-drafted UN Security Council resolution that would give backing to a multinational force to fight terrorism. This is called the G5 Sahel force, which has existed since 2014 and consists of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Already there are 4,000 French soldiers in and around Niger fighting terrorism alongside 35,000 African partner troops, according to Dunford.

The G5 force builds upon the work of the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership which was created in 2005 with 11 countries in the same region, with a broader membership that included Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria, and Cameroon.

French Defense Minister Florence Parly has encouraged the US to support the G5 force. These forces are underfinanced.

According to Reuters, the $490 million budget is only 25% funded.

As ISIS is defeated in Syria and Iraq, it is not clear if Africa will emerge as a growing base of fighters. However, the northern part of the continent is fertile ground for similar groups. It is a vast area that unites various terrorist groups from different backgrounds.

Although not directly linked to the Sahel, recent flare-ups in fighting in the Sinai and battles between Egyptian police and extremists in Egypt’s Western Desert are connected to this global battle. It’s a message that what happens in Niger affects Jerusalem as much as it does Paris and other states in between.

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France wants more U.S. support for UN counter-terrorism force for Africa’s Sahel

October 28, 2017

AFP

© AFP / by Carole LANDRY | UN Security Council ambassadors, pictured here meeting with Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kabore, visited the Sahel region with a view to launching the anti-Jihadist G5 Sahel force

UNITED NATIONS (UNITED STATES) (AFP) – France is facing a tough diplomatic battle to convince the United States to lend UN support to a counter-terrorism force for Africa’s Sahel region, where insurgents have killed UN peacekeepers and US soldiers.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian will lead a UN Security Council meeting on Monday that will look at ways of shoring up the G5 Sahel force set up by Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger.

France wants donors to step up, but is also looking to the United Nations to offer logistic and financial support to the joint force — which is set to begin operations in the coming days.

The United States however is adamant that while it is ready to provide bilateral funding, there should be no UN support for the force.

“The US is committed to supporting the African-led and owned G5 Joint Force through bilateral security assistance, but we do not support UN funding, logistics, or authorization for the force,” said a spokesperson for the US mission.

“Our position on further UN involvement with respect to the G5 Sahel joint force is unchanged.”

The vast Sahel region has turned into a hotbed of violent extremism and lawlessness since chaos engulfed Libya in 2011, the Islamist takeover of northern Mali in 2012 and the rise of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Earlier this month, militants linked to the Islamic State ambushed and killed four US soldiers on a reconnaissance patrol with Nigerien soldiers near the Niger-Mali border.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali has lost 17 peacekeepers in attacks this year, one of the highest tolls from current peace operations.

– Four options –

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has come out in favor of multilateral backing, writing in a recent report that the establishment of the G5 force “represents an opportunity that cannot be missed.”

Guterres has laid out four options for UN support, from setting up a UN office for the Sahel to sharing resources from the large UN mission in Mali.

In response, US Ambassador Nikki Haley wrote to Guterres this month to reaffirm the US “no” to UN involvement, officials said. The United States is the UN’s biggest financial contributor.

The battle over UN backing for the Sahel force is shaping up as Haley is pushing for cost-saving measures after successfully negotiating a $600-million cut to the peacekeeping budget this year.

After leading a Security Council visit to the Sahel last week, French Ambassador Francois Delattre said most countries on the council want the United Nations to help.

“The key question now is not about the relevance of the G5 Sahel force, nor the need to support it, but it is about the best way to convey this support,” said Delattre.

A “mix of both multilateral and bilateral support” is needed, he said.

– A long list of gaps –

The price tag for the G5 force’s first year of operations is estimated at 423 million euros ($491 million), even though French officials say the budget can be brought down closer to 250 million euros.

So far, only 108 million euros have been raised, including $50 million from the five countries themselves. A donor conference will be held in Brussels on December 16.

“UN logistical support could make a big difference,” said Paul Williams, an expert on peacekeeping at George Washington University.

“To become fully operational, the force needs to fill a long list of logistical and equipment gaps,” he said — from funding for its headquarters to intelligence-sharing and medical evacuation capacities.

Williams said US reservations were not just about cost, but also about the mission’s operations, which Washington sees as ill-defined.

The G5 is “a relatively blunt military instrument for tackling the security challenges in this region, which stem from a combination of bad governance, underdevelopment and environmental change,” he explained.

“At best it might limit the damage done by some of the criminal networks and insurgents, but even then, its gains will not be sustainable without adequate funding.”

by Carole LANDRY
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Second Niger team was out to kill or capture Islamic State leader

October 28, 2017
U.S. intelligence officials told UPI they believe that Abu Walid al Sahrawi, also known as Adnan al-Sahrawi, was behind the Oct. 4 attack.

By James LaPorta  |  Oct. 27, 2017 at 12:52 PM

UPI
U.S. soldiers with the 3rd Special Forces Group out of Fort Bragg, N.C., and the 5th Squadron, 1st Calvary Regiment out of Fort Wainwright, Alaska, participate in a pilot recovery exercise Aug. 4, 201. Photo by Airman 1st Class Isaac Johnson/U.S. Air Force

Oct. 27 (UPI) — A second special operations team was on a mission to kill or capture an Islamic State leader before the Oct. 4 attack on a Green Beret unit in Niger, U.S. intelligence officials told UPI.

The ambush, in which four Americans and five Nigerian soldiers were killed, may have been orchestrated by the leader of IS in the Greater Sahara, Abu Walid al-Sahrawi.

Sahrawi, code-named “Naylor Road,” was the target of a second clandestine operation, launched the evening of Oct. 3 by a force made up of American, French and Nigerian soldiers headed to the rural southwest region of Niger.

Image result for Abu Walid al Sahrawi, photos

Sahrawi, a pseudonym that means, “Adnan of the Desert,” is a jihadist and a former senior spokesman and self-proclaimed emir for al-Mourabitoun, an al-Qaeda linked terrorist organization that operates out of West Africa. Sahrawi took an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State in May 2015, according to the Counter Extremism Project, a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization that combats the growing threat from extremist ideologies.

Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. confirmed to reporters at a briefing Thursday that a second team was in the area when the attack occurred on a 12-man team of U.S. Army Special Forces Operational Detachment Alpha members and support soldiers — what is known as a Green Beret ODA — and their Nigerian Army counterparts, who were on a separate reconnaissance patrol.

The mission to kill or capture Sahrawi was scrubbed as bad weather emerged and he crossed the border into Mali, officials told UPI. The Green Beret ODA remained in the region after being directed by commanders to gather intelligence on Sahrawi.

U.S. intelligence officials told UPI they believe Sahrawi, also known as Adnan al-Sahrawi, was behind the unit’s ambush.

Sahrawi, a pseudonym that means, “Adnan of the Desert,” is a jihadist and a former senior spokesman and self-proclaimed emir for al-Mourabitoun, an al-Qaida-linked terrorist organization that operates out of West Africa. Sahrawi took an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State in May 2015, according to the Counter Extremism Project, a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization that combats the growing threat from extremist ideologies.

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara formed after Sahrawi split from al-Mourabitoun. The group is believed to operate near Mali, according to a October 2016 post in Arabic on the encrypted app service, Telegram. The post was distributed by IS’s Amaq news agency.

At some point on the morning of Oct. 4, the Special Forces team from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, N.C., was attacked while returning to their forward operating base, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford told reporters Monday.

The complex attack, near a village in Tongo Tongo, in the southwestern region of Niger near the Mali border, involved an array of small arms weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and a force of about 50 militants.

Army officials told UPI that the special forces team was delayed as they left a meeting with local leaders, which may have been part of the plan to attack them.

Officials suspect that some people in the Oct. 4 Tongo Tongo meeting may have been working with the Islamic State. Some of the residents from the village have reportedly have been arrested.

McKenzie told reporters Thursday that contact with the enemy was unlikely before the attack, and that it is unknown if that assessment changed at some point during the operation. Before the attack, 26 previous operations had been completed during the previous six to seven months, he said.

Once the firefight started, an overhead drone provided real-time full motion video images of the attack, Dunford said.

Staff Sgts. Dustin M. Wright and Bryan C. Black were killed in the ambush, along with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson. Sgt. La David Johnson‘s body was recovered 48 hours later by Nigerien forces in a remote, northwestern region of Niger. Green Berets Michael Perezoni and Brent Bartels were wounded in the ambush and were medically evacuated to Landstuhl Regional U.S. Army Medical Center in Germany.

French Mirage jets arrived on the scene about one hour later in a “show of force” in an attempt to drive out the militants. By the time French air support arrived, troops had been in contact with enemy forces for two hours.

It remains unclear when Johnson was separated from the other members of his unit, but a search was mounted after a DUSTWUN was declared, a military abbreviation for duty status, whereabouts unknown. McKenzie said a joint effort made up of U.S., French and Nigerien forces were involved in trying to recover Johnson.

A team of investigators led by a one-star general has been sent to West Africa on a fact-finding mission, with congressional committees launching their own inquiries into the circumstances of the attack.

 https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2017/10/27/Second-Niger-team-was-out-to-kill-or-capture-Islamic-State-leader/5501509116097/?utm_source=fp&utm_campaign=ls&utm_medium=3
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U.S. wants African Sahel force strategy before giving money — U.S. currently funds more than a quarter of the $7.3 billion U.N. peacekeeping budget.

October 28, 2017

Reuters

KINSHASA (Reuters) – The United States strongly supports an African military force to combat extremist militants in the Sahel region, but needs to see a strategy for the operation before it considers funding, the U.S. envoy to the United Nations and the U.S. Africa commander said.

Washington is wary, however, of the 193-member United Nations funding the force – to be made up of troops from Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Chad and Mauritania – according to Ambassador Nikki Haley and General Thomas Waldhauser.

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The United States currently funds more than a quarter of the $7.3 billion U.N. peacekeeping budget.

Haley said Washington wanted to know “what the strategy would be, how they see this playing out, what’s involved in it before we ever commit to U.N.-assessed funding.”

“Show us something, we’re open to it, we’re not saying no, but what we’re saying right now (is) there literally has been no information that has been given that gives us comfort that they know exactly how this is going to play out,” Haley told reporters on Friday.

The rise of jihadist groups – some linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State – in the arid Sahel has alarmed Western powers like France, which has deployed thousands of troops to the region in response.

The United States has also been targeting Islamic State in Libya and al-Shabaab in Somalia.

UNDER A MICROSCOPE

But U.S. involvement in counter-terrorism operations in Africa has been under the spotlight since four U.S. Special Forces troops were killed in an Oct. 4 ambush in Niger.

“In Africa with all the challenges of the youth bulge, poverty, the lack of governance, wide open spaces, these are areas where violent extremist organizations, like ISIS or like al Qaeda, thrive,” said Waldhauser, who oversees U.S. troops deployed in Africa.

He was speaking to a small group of reporters traveling with Haley on her first African tour as U.S. envoy to the United Nations, visiting Ethiopia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

 

An Department of Defense handout shows U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black (top left), Sgt. La David Johnson (top right), Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, (bottom left), and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, (bottom right), the four U.S. soldiers killed in the attack on U.S. and Nigerien forces on Oct. 4.
An Department of Defense handout shows U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black (top left), Sgt. La David Johnson (top right), Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, (bottom left), and Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, (bottom right), the four U.S. soldiers killed in the attack on U.S. and Nigerien forces on Oct. 4. PHOTO: DEOARTMENT OF DEFENSE/EPA/SHUTTERSTOCK

“United Nations forces don’t do counterterrorism, they do peacekeeping operations,” Waldhauser added, reflecting U.S. unease at the United Nations funding the prospective force.

The African counter-terrorism force, known as the G5 Sahel, plans to launch its first joint operations in the coming days.

“One of the hardest things to do in an organization like that is to try to synchronize the efforts of those five countries and have a coherent strategy as opposed to just a series of engagements in different locations,” Waldhauser said.

FRANCE WARNS OF RISKS

The United States supported a French-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution in June to give political backing to the G5 Sahel force, but refused to back a formal U.N. mandate.

The 15-member council is due to discuss the force on Monday.

Haley said the United States would continue its bilateral support for the G5 countries, but when asked how much Washington was prepared to contribute to the G5 Sahel force, she said: “You will hear about that, coming soon.”

Waldhauser said the United States currently makes a total of $51 million in bilateral defense contributions to the G5 countries.

File photo shows French Defence Minister Florence Parly delivering a speech
File photo shows French Defence Minister Florence Parly delivering a speech

French Defense Minister Florence Parly said last week that the United States must step up support for the planned Sahel force or it could fail, leaving French troops to carry the burden. [nL8N1MV58Z]

A report to the Security Council by U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres earlier this month said that the planned force budget of $490 million for the first year was only 25 percent funded.

Waldhauser said the G5 countries had discussed their planned counter-terrorism force with U.S. military officials in May at a U.S. organized defense conference in Germany.

“This is exactly what we want to have happen, we want partner nations who share the same overall strategic objectives that we do. We want to try to foster that type of behavior,” he said.

Reporting by Michelle Nichols; editing by Yara Bayoumy and G Crosse

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U.S. Soldiers Were Separated From Unit in Niger Ambush, Officials Say

October 27, 2017

WASHINGTON — In the chaotic moments after an Army Special Forces team and 30 Nigerien troops were ambushed by militants in a remote corner of West Africa three weeks ago, four of the Americans were separated from the larger group.

Their squad mates immediately alerted commanders that they were under attack — then called for help nearly an hour later, as a top Pentagon official said this week — and ground forces from Niger’s army and French Mirage jets were both dispatched.

About two hours later, the firefight tapering off, French helicopters from nearby Mali swooped in to the rescue on the rolling wooded terrain. But they retrieved only seven of the 11 Americans. The four others were inexplicably left behind, no longer in radio contact and initially considered missing in action by the Pentagon, a status that officials say raises the possibility they were still alive when the helicopters took off without them.

United States officials insisted that other American, French and Nigerien forces were in the area when the helicopters lifted off. When Americans suffer casualties in an operation, the wounded are typically evacuated before the dead, officials said.

The bodies of three dead Americans and the team’s interpreter were found hours later. But American military officials still cannot explain why it took two more days and an exhaustive search by troops from all three countries to find the body of the fourth soldier, Sgt. La David T. Johnson, discovered by Nigerien troops in the woods near the ambush site.

New details emerging from the military’s investigation into the ambush and interviews with military officials and lawmakers have revealed, once again, changes to the timeline in a shifting narrative that has bedeviled top Pentagon officials. It has prompted increasingly frustrated members of Congress to demand answers for how a shadowy mission in an austere region of Africa left four Americans and five Nigeriens dead, including the interpreter.

The questions — including the mission’s shifting goals, the intelligence assessment to back it up, how the soldiers were separated and the frantic search for Sergeant Johnson’s body — were at the forefront on Thursday when senior military officers and their civilian Pentagon bosses traveled to Capitol Hill to give separate two-hour classified briefings for members of the House and Senate Armed Services Committees.

Read the rest:https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/26/world/africa/niger-soldiers-killed-ambush.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news

U.S. soldiers ambushed in Niger were chasing a target, officials say

October 27, 2017
By James LaPorta  |  Oct. 26, 2017 at 5:39 PM

UPI
A Green Beret with 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) practices patrolling techniques with Nigerien soldiers during Exercise Flintlock 2017 in Diffa, Niger, Feb. 28, 2017. 3rd Special Forces Group (Airborne) is regionally aligned to North and West Africa. Photo by Staff Sgt. Kulani Lakanaria/U.S. Army.

Oct. 26 (UPI) — The attack in Niger on U.S. and Nigerien troops at the beginning of the month followed an aborted effort to track a target, according to U.S. intelligence officials.

Joint Staff Director Lt. Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr. told reporters at a press briefing Thursday that the attacked 12-man Special Forces team was not the only one on the ground in Niger during the October 4 attack.

U.S. intelligence officials told UPI a special mission unit was preparing to go after a high-value target in Niger, but the mission was canceled after the target crossed the border into Mali.

McKenzie told reporters that contact with the enemy was unlikely before the attack, and that it is unknown if that assessment changed at some point during the operation. Before the attack, 26 previous operations had been completed during the previous six to seven months, he said.

McKenzie confirmed that there were other American teams operating in the area, but gave no details as to their activities because of their possible connection to the Oct. 4 attack.

U.S. intelligence officials told UPI they believe that Abu Walid al Sahrawi, also known as Adnan al-Sahrawi, was behind the Oct. 4 attack near the village of Tongo Tongo in the southwestern region of Niger near the Mali border.

Image result for Abu Walid al Sahrawi, photos

Sahrawi, a pseudonym that means, “Adnan of the Desert,” is a jihadist and a former senior spokesman and self-proclaimed emir for al-Mourabitoun, an al-Qaeda linked terrorist organization that operates out of West Africa. Sahrawi took an oath of allegiance to the Islamic State in May 2015, according to the Counter Extremism Project, a not-for-profit, non-partisan, international policy organization that combats the growing threat from extremist ideologies.

The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, or ISIS-GS, would form after Sahrawi split from al-Mourabitoun. The group is believed to operate near Mali, according to a October 2016 post in Arabic on the encrypted app service, Telegram. The post was distributed by ISIS’s Amaq news agency.

“ISIS-GS is a small offshoot,” Malcolm Nance, a retired Navy senior chief petty officer and career counterterrorism specialist in the U.S. intelligence community, told UPI. “That was an ISIS-style ambush, but they have a lot more than 45-50 fighters. I suspect they are peeling off AQIM [al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb] branches and rolling them into ISIS-GS.”

The Special Forces team from 2nd Battalion, 3rd Special Forces Group were attacked in Niger, while returning to their forward operating base, Joint Chiefs Chairman Gen. Joseph F. Dunford told reporters on Monday. The complex attack involved an array of small arms weapons and rocket-propelled grenades and a force of about 50 militants.

The Green Berets ambushed in Niger were delayed as they left a meeting with local leaders — which may have been part of the plan to attack them, Army officials previously told UPI.

Officials suspect that some people in the Oct. 4 Tongo Tongo meeting may have been working with the Islamic State, and some residents from the town have already been arrested.

Once the firefight started, an unmanned aerial vehicle overhead provided real-time full motion video images of the attack, Dunford said.

Staff Sgts. Dustin M. Wright and Bryan C. Black were killed in the ambush, along with chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear specialist Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson. Sgt. La David Johnson‘s body was recovered 48 hours later by Nigerien forces in a remote, northwestern region of Niger. Two other soldiers were also wounded.

French Mirage jets arrived on the scene approximately one hour later in a “show of force” in an attempt to drive out the militants. By the time, French air support arrived, troops had been in contact with enemy forces for two hours.

“It’s important to note when they didn’t ask for support for that first hour, my judgment would be that that unit thought they could handle the situation without additional support,” Dunford said. “We’ll find out in the investigation exactly why it took an hour for them to call.”

Pentagon chief spokeswoman Dana White told reporters Thursday that the media is wrong regarding the notion that Army Sgt. LaDavid Johnson was abandoned, echoing a statement last week by Defense Secretary James Mattis that the “U.S. military doesn’t not leave troops behind.”

It remains unclear when Johnson was separated from the other members of his unit, but a search was mounted after a DUSTWUN was declared, a military abbreviation for duty status, whereabouts unknown — meaning, a service member cannot be located, but they have not been confirmed dead or captured by enemy forces.

McKenzie told reporters that a joint effort made up of U.S., French and Nigerien forces were involved in what’s called a tactical recovery of aircraft and personnel mission and the joint task force did not leave the area until Johnson was located.

A team of investigators led by a one-star general has been sent to West Africa on a fact-finding mission, with Congressional committees launching their own inquiries into the circumstances of the attack in the last week as well.

 https://www.upi.com/Defense-News/2017/10/26/US-soldiers-ambushed-in-Niger-were-chasing-a-target-officials-say/9931509048997/?utm_source=fp&utm_campaign=ls&utm_medium=4

Sahel poses new risks after jihadists ambush US forces in Niger

October 19, 2017

AFP

© STR / AFP | UN troops carry on a stretcher the body of one of the seven UN peacekeepers from Niger who were killed in an ambush, at the airport in Abidjan.

Text by NEWS WIRES

Latest update : 2017-10-19

The Islamic militants came on motorcycles toting rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns, killing four American service members after shattering the windows of the unarmored US trucks.

In this remote corner of Niger where the Americans and their local counterparts had been meeting with community leaders, residents say the men who came to kill that day had never been seen there before.

“The attackers spoke Arabic and Tamashek, and were light-skinned,” Baringay Aghali, told The Associated Press by phone from the remote village of Tongo-Tongo.

Who were these men and how did they know the Americans would be there that day?

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No extremist group has claimed responsibility for the deadly ambush on Oct. 4 and the languages reportedly spoken by the jihadists are used throughout the Sahel including Tamashek, spoken by ethnic Tuaregs.

IS splinter group

The ambush of US troops in Niger has been the center of controversy in America because President Donald Trump has been criticized in some quarters, including by one grieving family directly, for the way he spoke to the wife of one of the soldiers slain in that operation.

The Niger attack appears to be the work of the Islamic State of the Sahel, a splinter group of extremists loyal to the Islamic State group who are based just across the border in Mali, according to interviews with US officials and authorities here in the vast Sahel region bordering the Sahara Desert. It is led by Adnan Abu Walid who built ties with various extremists before forming his own group.

Some officials believe Walid’s militants are also holding an American, Jeffery Woodke, who was abducted in Niger a year ago. A rebel leader approached by Niger authorities to conduct negotiations for his release confirmed that Walid’s group is holding Woodke, who had spent 25 years as an aid worker in Niger, one of the poorest countries in the world.

Now Walid’s group is suspected of the attack that killed four American soldiers this month.

The ambush in Niger highlights how extremist groups have shifted and rebranded since the 2013 French-led military operation ousted them from power in northern Mali. Those extremists lost Mali’s northern cities but regrouped in the desert, including the man suspected of ordering the attack on the Americans.

Walid, 38, also known in some circles as Adnan al-Sahrawi, descends from the Sahrawi people, who are found across southern Morocco, Mauritania and parts of Algeria. He has long been active with Islamic extremists in Mali, at one time serving as the spokesman of the Mali-based group known as MUJAO that controlled the major northern town of Gao during the jihadist occupation in 2012.

That group was loyal to the regional al-Qaida affiliate. But Walid parted ways and in October 2016 a video circulated on the internet in which he pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria.

In the year since then he has called for attacks on foreign tourists in Morocco and the UN mission in Western Sahara, according to audio messages released in his name. It is not clear if Walid is receiving financial help from the Islamic State group or if the links are purely ideological.

Walid’s following now includes numerous members of the Peul ethnic group in the Mali-Niger border areas, who are active in the area near where the attack on the US soldiers took place. Before the attack on the US troops in Niger, Walid’s followers are believed to have staged a series of bloody attacks on military installations in Niger. In February, they were blamed for an assault in Tliwa where a dozen Niger soldiers were slain.

Walid’s Islamic State in the Sahel does not yet pose a threat as great as the al-Qaida militants in the region though that could shift with time, said Ibrahim Maiga with the Institute for Security Studies in Bamako. Walid clearly appears to have learned from his former colleagues on how to infiltrate and influence locals, he said.

“He has succeeded … in creating links with local people despite the fact that he is a stranger to the area,” he said.

A ‘continuous downward spiral’

The growing threat posed by Walid’s group comes as the international community is already facing an escalation in violence across the Sahel. A report by the UN chief obtained this week by AP warned that the security situation in the Sahel is in “a continuous downward spiral.”

For several years American and French forces have provided training and support to the militaries of Mali, Niger and other vulnerable countries in this corner of Africa where Islamic extremism has become increasingly entrenched over the past decade. Now the UN is urging the international community to finance a 5,000-strong regional force, with the head of the UN saying “the stability of the entire region, and beyond, is in jeopardy.”

The 12,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission in Mali has become the most dangerous in the world as Islamic militants routinely attack UN convoys across the north.

And the future of the regional security force known as the G5 Sahel Multinational Force – made up of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger – appears to be in jeopardy.

France, the former colonizer which has a 5,000-strong military operation to help stabilize the region – has been a major financial backer. Funding, though, has come up short.

The Security Council unanimously adopted a resolution in June welcoming the deployment, but at U.S. insistence it did not include any possibility of U.N. financing for the force. So far only one-quarter of the needed funds have been raised, throwing into doubt whether the regional forces will begin operations this month as scheduled.

Maiga, the Malian security expert, said winning the battle against extremism will not be only a question of firepower. If it were a conventional conflict with two armies respecting roughly the same rules, the G5 would come out stronger.

Jihadist groups, though, are infiltrating the population, exploiting the absence of government in some of these remote areas. That is how Walid’s group may have learned about the visit of the US troops to local communities. Within the communities where troops are attacked, someone is tipping off the extremists.

“The outcome of this battle will not depend solely on the size of the troops,” he said, “but also on the ability of states to regain the confidence of the population.”

(AP)

U.S. Military Re-Evaluates Mission in Niger After Deadly Attack

October 7, 2017

Body of fourth American soldier killed in ambush earlier this week is recovered

WASHINGTON—The U.S. military said Friday it is reassessing its training mission in Niger after a deadly Islamic State ambush killed four elite U.S. soldiers on a routine patrol with local forces.

The decision to review the role of American forces in western Africa came after a search-and-rescue team recovered the body of a fourth American soldier killed in Wednesday’s attack.

The ambush marked the first time militants have killed elite U.S. soldiers training and advising forces in Niger.

“This was not expected,” said Col. Mark Cheadle, a spokesman for the military’s Africa Command. “Had we anticipated this sort of attack, we absolutely would have devoted more resources to it to reduce the risk.”

Niger is a key U.S. ally in western Africa. The U.S. has a drone base in Niger, and it is building a second one there to help with counterterrorism operations, including surveillance of militants coming across the border from Libya and Mali.

The four Americans were part of a 12-member Army team taking part in a joint foot patrol with about 30 Nigerien soldiers near the Mali border.

Col. Cheadle said they were planning to meet local leaders and that any “threat was deemed to be unlikely.” While on patrol, the forces chased a small group of men on motorcycles headed toward the Mali border, officials said. As the soldiers headed back, they were ambushed by as many as 50 Islamic State fighters on motorcycles and in pickup trucks with mounted machine guns. The firefight killed four American soldiers and injured two others. Five Nigerien troops were also killed.

As the U.S. and Nigerien forces fought their way to safety, they discovered that one American soldier was missing, officials said. Pentagon officials work ed to keep the missing soldier out of the news while they tried to locate the missing American.

More than 100 troops from the U.S., France and Niger launched an intensive search for the soldier, who was able to activate a military beacon that helped them recover his body, military officials said. The beacon went silent on Thursday, making the search more challenging, officials said. Nigerien forces found the missing service member’s remains early Friday, Col. Cheadle said.

Read More

  • U.S. Troops Caught in Ambush by Dozens of Islamic State Fighters in Niger
  • Three U.S. Troops Killed in Ambush in Niger
  • Islamic State in Africa Tries to Lure Members From al-Shabaab

The soldier is believed to have died from injuries sustained during the initial attack, Col. Cheadle said, noting his remains were found “in the vicinity of the attack.”

The four slain soldiers were with the 3rd Special Forces Group from Fort Bragg, N.C. On Friday, the U.S. military identified the three other service members killed as Staff Sgt. Bryan C. Black, 35 years old, of Puyallup, Wash.; Staff Sgt. Jeremiah W. Johnson, 39, of Springboro, Ohio; and Staff Sgt. Dustin M. Wright, 29, of Lyons, Ga. Two other American soldiers were wounded and evacuated to Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany.

The name of the fourth soldier will be released Saturday. Col. Cheadle said the soldier’s wife had been notified on Friday.

There are roughly 800 U.S. service members in Niger, and the U.S. military has periodically sent troops to the border region to help local forces combat the burgeoning contraband– and people-smuggling routes, fueled, in part, by the instability in Libya.

Write to Nancy A. Youssef at Nancy.Youssef@wsj.com