The United States released a statement on Thursday addressing the increase of alleged human rights abuses by state security forces in West Africa and the Sahel. According to the statement, the U.S. was “deeply concerned” about these allegations and said that they must be addressed or else assistance from Washington could be at risk.

Part of these allegations is a report of mass executions in Burkina Faso released earlier this week by Human Rights Watch. The United States is also monitoring similar reports of human rights abuses in Mali where violence has wracked the nation.

“Continued human rights violations and abuses risk undermining the state’s credibility with its citizens, serve as a recruiting tool for terrorists, exacerbate the existing humanitarian crisis, and undermine efforts to bring security and stability to the region,” said Morgan Ortagus, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of State. 

The U.S. State Department welcomed the talks held earlier this week by the leaders of the G5 Sahel nations along with France and Spain in Nouakchott. It also praised Burkina Faso’s President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré and his counterparts of the G5 Sahel nations for their willingness to investigate allegations of abuses by security forces. It also urged the countries to hold “anyone found guilty of human rights violations or abuses” accountable. 

“The United States has made clear that our assistance to the region must not be used in any way that contributes to violations or abuses of human rights and that without prompt and thorough action to address these allegations, U.S. security assistance may be at risk,” Ortagus added.

The countries that comprise the G5 Sahel include Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad; all of them are former French colonies. The Sahel is a semi-arid region of western and north-central Africa that stretches Senegal to Sudan. It is bordered to the north by the Sahara desert.

Counterterrorism & counterinsurgency: US strategy in West Africa

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French Defense Minister Florence Parly urged the leaders of the G5 Sahel to uphold human rights during military operations in the region. “Political leaders of the Sahel countries are perfectly aware of what’s at stake,” Parly said this week. “They see the gap widening each time atrocities are committed, between the people and the authorities,” she added.

Violence has spread throughout the region since Islamic jihadists launched a terror campaign in Mali in 2012. The violence spread over into Niger and Burkina Faso and has crept in Chad and Cameroon, displacing hundreds of thousands. One of the key aspects of the region is that the countries’ borders are porous and largely unguarded; this has increased the mobility of the numerous terror groups.

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is very active in Mali and is aligned with Boko Haram terrorists in the Horn of Africa.

The Islamic State also has several offshoot jihadist organizations claiming allegiance to its banner: ISWAP (Islamic State West Africa Province), ISGS (Islamic State in the Greater Sahara) IS-CAP (Islamic State Central Africa Province), and Islamic State Libya are the four biggest such organizations operating in the area. ISWAP is another name for the Nigerian terror group Boko Haram, which publicly announced its allegiance to ISIS in 2015.

ISIS, through these different groups, has been recruiting converts in the Central African Republic, Chad, Kenya, Tanzania, and Somalia.

The military forces of the G5 work with and are part of the 5,100-man French-led coalition that has been active in the area since 2013 as part of “Operation Barkhane.” The French-led coalition has increased operations along the borders of Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger which both jihadists from AQMI and ISGS have been using as a sanctuary.

The French have also created the 500-man Special Operations Task Force -Takuba. Once it becomes operational, the task force will train, advise, assist, and accompany local forces in their fight against terrorist affiliates in the region. Takuba is comprised of units from France, Estonia, Czech Republic, Finland, Norway, the U.K., and Sweden.

During this week’s meeting between the G5 and their European partners, it was agreed to intensify a military campaign against Islamist militants. The countries also vowed to investigate Human Rights Watch’s report according to which at least 180 people were found in mass graves around Djibo, in Burkina Faso; most of them were ethnic Fulani or Peuhl men.

The security situation in the Sahel is made worse by deteriorating economic conditions, climate change as well as the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.