France’s armed forces minister criticised close ally Saudi Arabia on Wednesday for failing to honor commitments it made almost two years ago to provide millions of euros to a West African counter-terrorism force fighting Islamist militants. Saudi Arabia agreed in December 2017 to provide about 100 million euros ($110.7 million) to the G5 Sahel force, which is composed of the armies of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad.
But nearly three years after its launch, the G5 Sahel remains perennially underfunded and hobbled by poor coordination.
Groups with links to al Qaeda and Islamic State have strengthened their foothold across the arid Sahel region, making large swathes of territory ungovernable and stoking ethnic violence, especially in Mali and Burkina Faso.
“For the G5, there was a first phase when the international community was mobilised and donors offered commitments to arm the G5, but then there were delays,” France’s minister of the armed forces, Florence Parly, told a parliamentary hearing. “Saudi Arabia has still not honoured the promises it made… I can only regret that Saudi Arabia doesn’t honour those commitments,” she said, adding it appeared others were now starting to disburse funds.
It was a rare rebuke by France of its Saudi ally and comes almost two years after French President Emmanuel Macron had personally asked Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to contribute to the force and prove the kingdom’s intention to tackle extremist ideology.
France, the former colonial power in the region, intervened in Mali in 2013 to drive out Islamist militants who had occupied the north, but rather than stabilising the region, the situation has progressively worsened.