Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso to form joint force to fight jihadists

  • By Basillioh Rukanga
  • BBC news

Three West African countries led by military juntas say they will form a joint force to combat jihadist threats.

Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso announced the formation of the force after talks in the Nigerien capital Niamey.

Niger’s army chief, Moussa Salaou Barmou, announced it would be operational as soon as possible, without giving details of its size.

Groups linked to both Islamic State and al-Qaeda have killed thousands of people in the region over the past year.

The military regimes in the three countries have become increasingly close allies in recent months.

Last September they formed a mutual defense pact known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), withdrawing from an international force, the G5, set up to fight Islamists in the region.

Violence in West Africa’s Sahel region has worsened in recent years, despite military governments’ promises to tackle the decade-long conflict with jihadist groups.

The three countries have all cut ties with France, the former colonial power, which for years had a strong military presence in the Sahel.

A UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, Minusma, which had been operating for more than a decade, was also ordered to withdraw “without delay” by the country’s leaders, completing its exit in December.

The military regimes have strengthened ties with Russia, which has filled the void.

They have also announced that they will leave the West African economic bloc ECOWAS.

They had already been suspended from the bloc, which has urged military regimes to guarantee a quick return to democratic rule and imposed travel and economic sanctions on them.

Some sanctions were lifted or relaxed last month when ECOWAS pushed for dialogue.

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