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UN Chief Says He Fears Afghanistan-like Situation in Sahel

FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to reporters in New York, June 18, 2021.
FILE - U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres speaks to reporters in New York, June 18, 2021.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told AFP on Thursday that he feared the return to power of the Taliban in Afghanistan would encourage influential jihadist armed groups in the Sahel, as he called for a strengthening of "security mechanisms" in that region.

"I fear the psychological and real impact of what happened in Afghanistan" in the Sahel, Guterres said in an interview. "There is a real danger. These terrorist groups may feel enthusiastic about what happened and have ambitions beyond what they thought a few months ago."

Guterres said it is "essential to reinforce security mechanisms in the Sahel," because it "is the most important weak point, which must be treated."

"It is not only Mali, Burkina or Niger. Now we have infiltrations in Ivory Coast, in Ghana," he added.

He noted that France will reduce its presence in the region and cited news reports that Chad wants to withdraw some troops from border areas around Burkina Faso, Niger and Mali.

"This is the reason why I am fighting for there to be an African counterterrorism force with a mandate under Chapter 7 [which provides for the use of force] of the Security Council and with dedicated funds, which can guarantee a response to the threat level," he added.

Insufficient capacity to respond

"I fear today that the response capacity of the international community and the countries of the region are not sufficient in the face of the threat," he said.

The U.N. chief has been trying for several years to give the G5 Sahel force – Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso – a U.N. mandate accompanied by collective funding from the world body.

France supports Guterres, but the U.N.'s leading financial contributor, the United States, has rejected the move.

"This blocking must be ended. It is absolutely essential," said the secretary-general.

He said he was worried about fanatical groups where death "is desirable," with armies "disintegrating in front of" these types of fighters.

"We saw this in Mosul in Iraq, in Mali during the first push towards Bamako, we saw it in Mozambique," he said. "This danger is real, and we must seriously think about its implications for the terrorist threat and the way in which the international community must organize itself in the face of this threat."