"[...] This decision has been taken because [...] the threat is expanding, it’s becoming more complex," the head of the AU's Peace and Security Commission said.
The African Union (AU) announced Thursday at a press conference that it is planning to send 3,000 temporary troops to the restive West African Sahel region, where local forces are struggling to contain a nearly eight-year-old insurgency by Islamist groups.
"On the decision of the summit to work on deploying a force of 3,000 troops to help the Sahel countries degrade terrorist groups, I think this is a decision that we'll be working on together with the G5 Sahel and ECOWAS," Head of the AU's Peace and Security Commission Smail Chergui said. The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) is the West African regional bloc.
"I think this decision has been taken because as we see, as you can recognize yourself, the threat is expanding, it’s becoming more complex," Chergui added.
The G5 Sahel, comprised of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger launched the G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force in 2017 to “combat terrorism, transnational organized crime and human trafficking in the Sahel area.” Five thousand troops from the G5 Sahel are already on the ground.
The security situation in the Sahel has been worsening after a Tuareg rebellion started in 2012, seizing much of northern Mali and declaring independence. Islamist groups who supported the separatists at first turned against them ultimately and took control of several towns and regions.
France sent troops to Mali in January 2013 after the rebel groups’ advance started to threaten Malian capital Bamako.
Despite the French presence and a 13,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, armed groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State spread to the center of the country, to western Niger and to the north and east of Burkina Faso.
Thousands of people have died, while hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes. Many experts remain uncertain that the deployment of additional troops is the best answer to the crisis.
Earlier this month, the head of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) in Mali Ute Kollies said that more soldiers in the region will not help to stabilize the situation if more talks with armed groups are not carried out and if more funding for aid and development is not made available.