The Joint Force of the Group of Five of the Sahel (Force Conjointe du G5 Sahel or FC-G5S) is the latest initiative by African member states to reduce the threat of terrorism in the Sahel, a region that is often framed as an arc of instability. The FC-G5S – which includes Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mauritania and Chad – was authorised by the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) on 13 April 2017 for a 12-month period, and was later – on 20 June 2017 – welcomed by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). It was reauthorised by the AU PSC for a 12-month period on 12 April 2018.
This article focuses on the security pillar of the G5 Sahel, by examining the FC-G5S mandate to combat terrorism in the Sahel. After a brief background, the article provides an overview of the main jihadist protagonists in the Sahel, demonstrating that some of these groups emerge and thrive, due to distinctly local, societal problems, and should not only be viewed through the prism of terrorism. The article then examines the FC-G5S counterterrorism (CT) strategy and the conceptualisation and configuration of the force itself, and argues that currently there is a danger of advancing a security-first stabilisation strategy through relying on military-led CT operations to contain and deter the threat of terrorist groups. This approach depoliticises these groups, and risks reducing emphasis on the local, sociopolitical and economic factors that have enabled violent extremism to take root in the first place.
The FC-G5S is the military force that falls under the auspices of the Group of Five of the Sahel, a subregional organisation formed in February 2014 to bolster cooperation around development and to unify collective action against common threats such as terrorism and organised crime. It can be categorised as what the AU calls “ad hoc security initiatives” – coalitions that are authorised but not mandated by the PSC, and which create security pacts to enable their forces to conduct cross-border operations to target common threats.