African leaders consider joint steps, pledge 'merciless' fight against Islamist threat

High-profile Sahel summit to define strategy for region as militants threaten gains.

A summit on security in the sub-Saharan Sahel region of Africa, where armed Islamic extremists linked to al-Qaeda are active, opened Thursday in Mauritania, attended by five heads of state.

The meeting was part of the “Nouakchott Process”, named for an initiative launched in Mauritania’s capital in March 2013 to boost security cooperation among 11 participating states.

The summit, whose theme was “a space made for secure for global development,” was the first since Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria and Senegal signed up to the process.

Host President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, who also currently chairs the African Union, told his peers from Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali and Senegal, along with the other delegates, of a shared determination to carry out “a merciless fight against terrorism and organised crime”.

Abdel Aziz stressed that national defence systems needed to be better adapted “to the demands of the terrain and the nature of the enemy”.

Across a broad region, the threat ranges from Boko Haram jihadists in northern Nigeria, said by local officials to have kidnapped at least 185 villagers in a latest large-scale raid on Sunday, to the Islamists driven out of Mali’s key northern towns by the French army last year and now holed up in the desert.

“The summit must define the steps (to ensure) that AU’s strategy for the Sahel, which has three goals: governance, security and development,” Abdel Aziz said.

Experts attending the meeting said leaders would need to consider measures for setting up joint patrols by their security forces.

Such “mixed units would take the shape of groups of from 1,000 to 1,500 uniformed personnel”, including infantry units and special forces, according to a report drawn up by the experts.

Participants at the summit will be discussing developments in northern Mali, in Libya and with regard to Boko Haram, which has extended its bloody activities beyond Nigerian soil, notably into neighbouring Cameroon.

At the first International Forum on Peace and Security in Africa, which ended on Tuesday in the Senegalese capital Dakar, the leaders of Chad, Mali and Senegal called on Western states to “finish the job” in Libya, by attacking the jihadist sanctuary in the south of the north African nation, seen as a threat across the Sahel.

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