Seven West African states want to strengthen their anti-jihadist cooperation


West African coastal states held talks on Thursday to strengthen cooperation against jihadist violence spilling over from the Sahel after more countries announced they would withdraw their peacekeeping forces from Mali.

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Gulf of Guinea neighbors Benin, Ghana, Ivory Coast and Togo face increased risks from Islamic State-allied and al-Qaeda militants waging war across their northern borders in the Sahel.

As part of the so-called Accra Initiative, representatives of coastal states, the EU and others met in Ghana’s capital for talks on security and intelligence cooperation.

Ghana’s National Security Minister Albert Kan-Dapaah said cooperation is needed because the threat from extremism is “more widespread than previously thought and transcends borders”.

“The threat landscape has consistently changed,” he said.

In the first quarter of 2022, Africa recorded 346 attacks, almost half of which were in the western part of the continent, he said.

The Accra Initiative, launched in 2017, includes Benin, Togo, Ghana, Cote d’Ivoire and Burkina Faso. Mali and Niger have also joined since then.

The Accra meeting, which runs until next week, will also involve representatives from the EU and UK governments and the 15-member West African bloc ECOWAS.

A summit of regional heads of state is scheduled for November 22, where the leaders will discuss security proposals, according to the Accra Initiative’s executive secretary.

The Sahel’s jihadist conflict began in northern Mali in 2012, spread to Burkina Faso and Niger in 2015, and now the states on the Gulf of Guinea are subject to sporadic attacks.

In the three Sahel nations, thousands of people have been killed, more than two million displaced and devastating damage inflicted on three of the poorest economies in the world.

French and other peacekeeping missions had operated in Mali for nearly a decade as a bulwark against the spread of Islamist violence.

But after two coups d’état in Mali, the military junta has moved closer to Moscow, received Russian weapons and allowed what Western countries call Russian mercenaries to operate.

It has eroded ties with Western partners. Earlier this year, France withdrew its troops during its anti-jihadist mission in Barkhane.

This week, Ivory Coast, which is embroiled in a separate row with Mali over jailed Ivorian soldiers, said it would withdraw its contingent from the UN peacekeeping mission MINUSMA by August 2023.

Britain also announced a withdrawal from MINUSMA within six months, and Germany warned that its soldiers would leave the force by the end of next year “at the latest”.

British Defense Secretary James Heappey said on Monday he would join the Accra meeting next week as Britain, France and others look at options to “rebalance our deployment”.

“I will join colleagues from across Europe and West Africa in Accra to coordinate our renewed response to the instability in the Sahel,” he said.

Benin and Togo in particular have faced an increased threat from across their northern borders with Burkina Faso.

Benin, which has recorded 20 incursions since 2021, is also in talks with Rwanda for logistical assistance and military expertise.

Togo has suffered at least five attacks, including two deadly attacks, since November 2021. More than 4,000 people in northern Togo have been displaced this year alone, the government in Lome has said.

(AFP)

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