Africa Sahel states agree to set up joint counter-terror force

image copyrightAFP
image captionMore than 70 people were killed in a suicide bomb attack in Gao, Northern Mali, last month

Five countries in Africa's Sahel region have agreed to set up a joint counter-terrorism force to tackle the jihadist threat.

Leaders from Mali, Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso and Mauritania made the announcement at a summit in Bamako.

Chad's President Idriss Deby said the members of the G5 group were on the "frontline against terrorism".

Their meeting followed an attack last month near the Malian city of Gao which killed nearly 80 people.

The suicide bombing was the worst attack in the region for years.

Few details were given about the proposed force's size or where it would be based.

UN Security Council approval and a UN resolution would be requested before the force could be set up, Niger's President Mahamadou Issoufou said.

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The countries will seek European funding, according to Mr Deby, who said the new force would "save" European soldiers' lives at a time when the terror threat appeared to be growing.

The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali consists of 12,000 troops, including hundreds of Europeans. Seventy people have died in the operation, which is one of the UN's most dangerous in decades.

More than 3,000 French troops are also deployed in the region, having intervened in Mali in 2013.

The Sahel is home to many Islamist groups, some aligned with al-Qaeda.

Al-Mourabitoun, a group linked to al-Qaeda's North African affiliate, claimed responsibility for last month's bombing in Gao.

Other attacks targeting tourists occurred in Mali, Burkina Faso and the Ivory Coast in late 2015 and last year.

An internal G5 document describes northern Mali as a "known hideout for terrorists" and a "launch pad for attacks against other countries", the AFP news agency reports.

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