Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso Creating Joint Force to Fight Worsening Jihadi Insurgency

Junta-led Niger, Burkina Faso, and Mali have agreed to set up a joint force to tackle security threats across their territories, Niger’s armed forces chief Moussa Salaou Barmou said on Wednesday after a meeting with his counterparts.

The decision is the latest sign of closer alignment to emerge since the three neighbors in West Africa’s insurgency-torn central Sahel region severed military ties with longstanding allies including France and formed a cooperation pact known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES).

In a televised statement, Barmou said the new task force would be “operational as soon as possible to meet the security challenges,” but did not give further details on the size or remit of the force.

Violence in the region fueled by the decade-long fight with Islamist groups linked to Al Qaeda and Islamic State has worsened since the three countries’ militaries seized power in a series of coups from 2020 to 2023.

It hit a high in 2023, with conflict fatalities in the central Sahel rising by 38 percent compared with the previous year, according to US-based crisis-monitoring group ACLED, citing reports of over 8,000 people killed in Burkina Faso alone last year.

The army chiefs of military-ruled Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso on Wednesday announced the creation of a joint force to battle long-running jihadist rebellions raging in their countries.

The new force “will be operational as soon as possible to take into account the security challenges in our space,” Niger’s army chief Moussa Salaou Barmou said in a statement following talks in Niamey.

“We are convinced that, with the combined efforts of our three countries, we will manage to create the conditions for a shared security,” he added.

The size of the joint force was unspecified but Barmou said the three armies had agreed to develop an “operational concept” that would allow them to reach their defense and security objectives.

The announcement is the latest bringing closer the three neighbors, who have severed ties with former colonial ruler and traditional security ally France in favor of Russia.

Last year they joined diplomatic forces in an Alliance of Sahel States with a view to creating a federation and in January announced their intention to withdraw from the regional bloc the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

ECOWAS has imposed sanctions on all three countries for overthrowing democratically elected governments in a succession of coups since 2020.

The spiraling violence is estimated to have killed thousands and displaced millions across the region.

Anger at civilian governments for failing to stem the violence meted out by jihadist rebels affiliated with Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group played a large role in the military takeovers.
A jihadist revolt broke out in northern Mali in 2012 before spreading to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso in 2015.

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