3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

A soldier stands guard outside the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, in the wake of an attack that killed 32 people, in 2016. (AP Photo)
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Updated 28 February 2020

3,000-strong African force planned against Sahel extremism

  • The force would be a significant new player in the Sahel where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year
  • The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia: African leaders have decided to work on deploying 3,000 troops to West Africa’s troubled Sahel region as extremist attacks surge, an African Union official said Thursday.
The force would be a significant new player in the sprawling, arid region south of the Sahara Desert where fighters linked to Al-Qaeda and the Daesh group killed thousands of people last year — at times working together in an unprecedented move.
The decision by African leaders comes as the United States considers cutting its military presence in Africa while urging African solutions to African problems. That has sparked pressure from worried security allies including France and regional countries as well as a rare bipartisan outcry among lawmakers in Washington.
Smail Chergui, the African Union commissioner for peace and security, relayed the new troop decision that was taken at the recent AU summit during a meeting Thursday with visiting European Union officials.
The AU continental body is expected to work with the West African regional counterterror force G5 Sahel as well as the West African regional body ECOWAS, which has formed peacekeeping units in the past, Chergui said.
ECOWAS in September announced what Chergui called a “very bold” plan to counter extremism in the region, including mobilizing up to $1 billion through 2024.
“As you see and recognize yourself, the threat is expanding and becoming more complex,” Chergui said. “Terrorists are now even bringing a new modus operandi from Afghanistan and Al-Shabab” in Somalia.
It was not immediately clear what the next steps would be in forming the AU force for the Sahel, which has become the most active region in Africa for extremist attacks.
The force would join France’s largest overseas military operation, the 5,100-strong Barkhane, and the 15,000-strong United Nations peacekeeping force in Mali, one of the hardest-hit countries in the attacks along with Burkina Faso and Niger.


Paris bans daytime jogging as virus deaths hit new high

Updated 42 min 19 sec ago

Paris bans daytime jogging as virus deaths hit new high

  • Starting Wednesday, Paris will enforce a ban on individual outdoor sports between the hours of 10:00 am and 07:00 pm
  • Officials worry that confinement violations could further burden hospitals already overflowing with COVID-19 patients

PARIS:  Paris officials announced Tuesday that they would ban daytime jogging to keep people from bending anti-coronavirus lockdown rules, after France recorded its biggest daily jump in the death toll from the outbreak.
Under nationwide stay-at-home orders that came into force on March 17, people can leave their homes only for essential purposes, which until now included a solo walk or run within a one-kilometer (0.6-mile) radius of home.
But amid a spell of sunny spring weather, large groups of Parisians were seen running, walking and congregating over the weekend, even as police stepped up patrols and issued fines for lockdown violations.
Starting Wednesday, Paris will enforce a ban on individual outdoor sports between the hours of 10:00 am and 07:00 pm.
Officials worry that confinement violations could further burden hospitals already overflowing with COVID-19 patients, and Interior Minister Christophe Castaner on Monday urged municipal officials to toughen restrictions if necessary.
“Every excursion avoided aids the fight against the epidemic,” Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo and police chief Didier Lallement said in a statement.
Also Tuesday, the Atlantic coastal resort city of Biarritz limited the period people can sit on benches or in other public areas to two minutes maximum, saying confinement meant that “dawdling is prohibited.”
Paris, Biarritz and other cities have already closed public parks and gardens as part of the nationwide lockdown that requires people to carry a document justifying any excursion from the home.
Those caught without the document risk a fine starting at €135 ($147).
In the north of France, the mayor of Marcq-en-Baroeul has made spitting in public, coughing or sneezing without covering one’s face, and throwing used masks and gloves in the street punishable by a fine of 68 euros.
The tougher rules came after Health Minister Olivier Veran announced Monday a record daily coronavirus death toll of 833 people in 24 hours.
“It is not over,” the minister said, urging people to “stay at home and continue this confinement effort.”
Like many other nations, France debated Tuesday the merits of encouraging, or compelling, people to wear face masks to prevent asymptomatic virus-carriers from passing it on to others.
Veran said Tuesday that it remained an “open question” that required further scientific investigation.
France’s Academy of Medicine, which advises the government on epidemics, has advocated mask-wearing as an aid in curbing the outbreak, but international bodies, including the World Health Organization (WHO) disagree.
But Hidalgo said in a radio interview Tuesday that she would not oblige face mask use for now, though she did encourage people to cover their faces in public.
France’s finance ministry, meanwhile, said dozens of companies have produced 3.9 million fabric masks for non-medical professional use in the past week, and will produce 6.6 million more in the days to come.
The country’s Order of Pharmacists and two labor unions urged the government, meanwhile, to allow pharmacies to sell “alternative” non-medical grade masks to members of the public as an added protection.
The WHO said Monday that asking the general public to wear face masks could be justified in areas where hand-washing and physical distancing were difficult, but warned that masks alone could not stop the pandemic.