DAKAR (Reuters) - Saudi Arabia has pledged $100 million (£74.2 million) to a new regional military force battling jihadist groups in West Africa’s Sahel region, force member Mali said on Monday.
The contribution would be a major boost to the cash-strapped force and bring pledged commitments to more than half the roughly $500 million the G5 Sahel says it needs for its first year of operations.
The G5 Sahel - composed of the armies of Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad - launched its first military campaign in October amid growing unrest in the Sahel, whose porous borders are regularly crossed by jihadists, including affiliates of al Qaeda and Islamic State.
Those groups have stepped up attacks on civilian and military targets, including tourist attractions in regional capitals, raising fears the zone will become a new breeding ground for militants.
Mali’s foreign ministry said Saudi Arabian authorities made the pledge during a visit to the kingdom late last month by Malian Foreign Minister Abdoulaye Diop.
Saudi Arabia’s foreign ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
The Sunni Muslim kingdom is competing with its main rival, Shi’ite power Iran, for influence across West Africa and other parts of the Muslim world. Donors from both countries have given money to mosques and other causes there.
France, the G5’s most vocal foreign backer, has pressed Saudi Arabia to take concrete actions to fight Islamist militants. French President Emmanuel Macron asked Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to contribute to the G5 when he saw him in Riyadh last month.
The European Union, France, the United States and each of the G5 countries have also promised to fund the force.
Reporting By Aaron Ross; Additional reporting by Stephen Kalin in Riyadh; Editing by Andrew Heavens