Saudi Arabia, Iran compete in Sahel

Iranian spin doctors say Saudis and Emiratis fund Sahel forces to counter Iranian influence

Saudi Arabia, Iran compete in Sahel

Iran-Africa relations

TEHRAN, Feb. 8 (MNA) – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirate are supporting the Sahel Joint Military Force, the latest indication of a competition for influence with Iran in West Africa.

The force falls under the rubric of G5 Sahel, which brings together Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Chad for regional cooperation on political and security issues.

To bolster the finances of this organization, France invited UAE, Saudi Arabia, Germany. and Italy to coordinate with this organization. Saudi Arabia committed $118 million and the UAE offered $35 million to fund the joint military force. In addition, the UAE has promised to establish a school of war” in Mauritania.

Support for this joint force allows Saudi Arabia to claim that it is leading the fight against global terrorism, alongside the creation of the Islamic Military Counter Terrorism Coalition of 40 Islamic states. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman, in particular, wants to prove his leadership in this fight. It also allows both Saudi Arabia and the UAE to plan for a long-term presence in the region, with an eye toward countering Iran.

Iranian Presence in Africa

The presence of Iran in Africa dates to the 1980s. During the Cold War, Iran was located in the bloc of US-aligned states. After the Islamic Revolution, Iran became interested in spreading Shiite thought in West Africa through cultural, economic, diplomatic, and media initiatives.

Most African countries are rich in natural resources such as gas, oil, gold, iron, copper, diamond, platinum, and phosphate. Poverty in the Sahel Region and West Africa, however, opened the doors of the region to Iran. Iran implemented hundreds of economic projects in many African states like Senegal, Gambia, Mali, Sierra Leon, Benin, Nigeria, and Ghana. Iranian leaders—Ayatollah Hashemi Rafsanjani, Sayyed Muhammad Khatami, and Mahmoud Ahmadinejad travelled to these states and signed many bilateral agreements.

Iran also benefitted from these deals, and not just the expansion of Shiite thought. The deals allowed Iran to break out of the international isolation generated by its nuclear activities. They created new markets for Iranian products, particularly the oil that was under global sanctions, and provided access to raw materials, like uranium. Iran earned billions of dollars from the implementation of joint projects, including facilities that refined Iranian oil.

Saudi Concerns

Saudi Arabia’s concerns about increased Iranian influence have prompted it to push back, particularly after the ascension of King Salman. Saudi Arabia poured investments into the public and private sectors in West Africa and the Sahel. But Saudi penetration also extended into the religious realm, with a focus on the Maliki Muslims who compose the majority of West African population. Since 78% of African Muslims are Sufis, their beliefs generally stand in contrast to a Saudi culture that features elements of Salafism.

To compete for influence, then, Saudi Arabia has gone beyond economic projects and religious programming. That’s why it has created an unofficial coalition with Mauritania and Senegal and is also preparing a new coalition with Libya and Chad. The presidents of Senegal and Mauritania travelled to Riyadh in April 2015, and Senegal has committed to sending hundreds of troops to the Asefah Al-Hazm military operation under Saudi command.

Saudi Arabia has contributed to the joint military force of the Sahel to earn international legitimacy in the fight against terrorism and to further its political and economic interests in West Africa. But countering Iran is the main rationale. Stemming Iranian influence in this region and globally remains one of the cardinal pivots of Saudi Arabia’s foreign policy.

Javad Heiran-Nia is the head of the international desk of Mehr News Agency (MNA), a semi-official, state-funded news agency and one of Iran’s biggest agencies. Somayeh Khomarbaghi is a journalist with MNA.
Source: Mehr News Agency, February 08, 2018
© 2018 Mehr News Agency. All Rights Reserved.

The Southern Front: Why Saudi Arabia, UAE Gave US$130 Million to Africa Force

Sahel forces

Saudi Arabia pledged US$100 million December 13 towards a special anti-terror force in the Sahel region of West Africa — and the United Arab Emirates followed up with its own US$30 million offer.

French President Emmanuel Macron announced the funding from the Gulf at a meeting to drum up support for the G5 Sahel force, which includes troops from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger. All five nations are Francophone former colonies.

“We must win the war against terrorism in the Sahel-Sahara region. There are attacks every day. There are states which are currently in jeopardy,” he said December 13.

Jihadist ‘Influx’

“We are aware time is running out for us. With what is happening in the Middle East, with the end of the war in Syria, there will be an influx (of jihadists) towards us,” said Malian President Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

In October, US Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson, committed US$60 million towards the force — and President Macron has now exceeded the 250 million euros (US$296 million) which was needed.

“Defeating terrorism depends on making sure terrorist organizations cannot have safe havens on any continent,” Mr. Tillerson said when he pledged the US contribution.

With Daesh almost completely destroyed in Syria and Iraq, there are fears sympathizers with the cause of extremist Islam might seek a new sanctuary.

Libya has been one area of concern but attention has now turned to the Sahel, a semi-arid region just south of the Sahara Desert.

France has its 4,000-strong Barkhane counter-terrorism force deployed in the Sahel but it is keen to delegate responsibility to the five nations’ own troops.

Patrolling Vast Areas

The G5 Sahel force has taken two years to set up and effectively patrol a semi-desert region the size of Europe.

Among all Sahel countries, Mali has been hardest hit by terrorism and instability, with a 2012 military coup following the government’s failure to deal with a separatist Tuareg uprising in the north of the country. Following the coup, various Islamist groups were attracted to the country, including al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, which is outlawed in Russia.

The United Nations has been running a stabilization mission, MINUSMA, in Mali since 2013.

In October, four US soldiers were killed in an attack in Niger and there have been frequent attacks in Burkina Faso.

In August, 19 — included two Canadians and a French national — were killed after gunmen attacked a restaurant in the Burkinabe capital Ouagadougou and in January 2016 more than 100 hostages were freed after Islamists attacked the city’s Splendid Hotel.

Boko Haram, the terrifying extremist Islamist group operating in northern Nigeria, have also been operating out of bases in western Chad.

Source: Sputnik News Service, December 14, 2017
© 2017. Sputnik. All Rights Reserved.

UAE Pledges 30m Euros for G5 Sahel Joint Force

Sahel countries

The Sahel countries: Mauritania, Mali, Burkino Faso, Niger, and Chad

Dec. 14 — The UAE has announced a 30-million Euro contribution to the G5 Sahel Joint Force, to tackle the threat of terrorism, extremism and organized crime in the Sahel region.

The announcement was made during an international meeting in support of the Sahel Joint Force, a major African initiative, bringing together Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Chad, and supported by the African Union and the United Nations.

A UAE delegation, headed by Reem bint Ibrahim Al Hashimy, Minister of State for International Cooperation, attended the meeting, which was held Wednesday in Paris.

It was also attended by President Emmanuel Macron of France, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, G5 heads of states, as well as Italian and Belgian premiers.

In her speech at the meeting, Al Hashimy affirmed UAE’s steadfast position regarding combating terrorism and extremism.

Al Hashimy commended the support shown by the international community for the G5 Sahel Force in 2017, including the adoption of the UN Security Council Resolution 2391 and allowing the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) to provide logistical support to the joint force.

She underscored the importance of the measures taken by the GCC states to put an end and dry up sources of funding terrorism, and considered them a significant step on the path toward obliterating terrorism.

The minister reiterated the necessity of developing empowerment programmes for youths living in those regions plagued by extremist thoughts, and introducing training schemes that enable youngsters to get job and education opportunities that safeguard them against falling victims to terror groups.

For his part, the French president commended the efficient approach adopted by the UAE and the Kingdom of Saudi Araba toward terrorism and extremism, which, he said, is based on forging radical solutions to uprooting the phenomenon by launching developmental programmes badly needed by the countries affected by terrorism.

Source: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Government of UAE
Distributed by Contify.com, December 14, 2017
© Copyright 2017 Contify.com

Saudi, UAE head to Paris to offer helping hand to West Africa force

Saudi royals

The Saudi royals

PARIS, Dec 13 (Reuters) – Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates are attending a summit in Paris on Wednesday aimed at accelerating efforts to set up a West African force to battle Islamist militants, a sign Gulf Arab states are upping their influence in the region.

The G5 Sahel – composed of the armies of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad – launched a symbolic military operation to mark its creation in October amid growing unrest in the Sahel, whose porous borders are regularly crossed by jihadists, including affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State.

However, France, which has some 4,000 troops in the region, has bemoaned that the militants have scored military and symbolic victories in West Africa while the G5 force has struggled to win financing and become operational.

To achieve those ends, French President Emmanuel Macron is hosting among others the leaders of the five participating countries, Germany and Italy as well as the Saudi and Emirati foreign ministers.

Thousands of U.N. peacekeepers, French troops and U.S. military trainers and drone operators have failed so far to stem the growing wave of jihadist violence, leading world powers to pin their hopes on the new force.

“For the last few months, the activity of terrorist groups has not decreased and the armies continue to suffer significant losses, which means that there is an operational urgency to regain control of the region and to increase the military effort,” a French diplomatic source said.

Among efforts to widen support, Macron has pressed Saudi Arabia to take concrete actions to fight Islamist militants and asked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to contribute to the G5 when he saw him last month.

TARGET DATE OF MARCH 2018

Macron sees the full implementation of the G5 force as a long-term exit strategy for his own forces that intervened in 2013 to beat back an insurgency in northern Mali.

“The objective is increased military, political and financial mobilisation,” the source said, adding that the aim was to get the 5,000-strong force running by March 2018.

Saudi Arabia has now pledged $100 million, a major boost for the force, bringing commitments to more than half the roughly $500 million the G5 Sahel says it needs for its first year of operations. The UAE is also funding a G5 “war school” in Mauritania that is due to open in January.

“Both the UAE and Saudi Arabia are interested in the Sahel. Getting a seat at the table, being seen as security stakeholders, is something that fits in their respective strategy. Both have ambitions in large chunks of Africa,” said Jalel Harchaoui, a geopolitics researcher at Paris 8 University.

Prince Mohammed is also setting up a separate Islamic military coalition, whose member countries can request or offer assistance to each other to fight militants. This could include military help, financial aid, equipment or security expertise.

The Sunni Muslim kingdom is also competing with its main rival, Shi’ite power Iran, for influence across West Africa and other parts of the Muslim world.

(Reporting by John Irish, Editing by William Maclean)
Source: by John Irish and Marine Pennetier, REUTERS, December 13, 2017
© Copyright 2017 Thomson Reuters. All Rights Reserved.

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