EU to increase counter terrorism funding in Sahel Africa

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The European Union is set to double its funding for a multi-national military operation in West Africa’s Sahel region to counter Islamist insurgencies, EU diplomats said.

At a donor conference of some 50 countries including the U. S., Japan and Norway, military power France hopes to win enough backing to allow a regional force first proposed four years ago to be fully operational later this year.

“There is a direct European interest in restoring stability to the region,” a senior EU diplomat said.

“There is a general awareness now that the future of the European Union is also the future of Africa.”

Fears that violence in the arid zone could fuel already high levels of migration towards Europe and become a springboard for attacks on the West have made military and development aid there a priority for European nations and Washington.

The G5 Sahel force, made up of troops from Mali, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania, needs more than 400 million euros (494 million dollars) to be able to meet the demands of its Western backers, up from the 250 million euros it has now.

France, which has more than 4,000 troops in the region, hopes to reach at least 300 million on Friday.

The G5 Sahel operation, whose command base is in central Mali, is set to swell to 5,000 men from seven battalions and will also engage in humanitarian and development work.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) warned that training soldiers was not the only strategy and called for greater efforts to relieve the roots of the conflict in poverty, poor governance and climate hazards.

“When you add more weapons, you add more suffering,” Patrick Youssef, deputy head of the ICRC’s operations for Africa, told reporters.

“That needs to be accompanied with real measures to alleviate the suffering that is the main reason why this war was created.”