Three West African countries in the Sahel region, Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, have signed a mutual defense pact on Saturday, September 16, 2023, to cooperate against threats of armed rebellion or external aggression. The charter, known as the Alliance of Sahel States (AES), binds the signatories to assist one another – including militarily – in the event of an attack on any one of them.
The three countries are struggling to contain Islamist insurgents linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State group, who have killed thousands of people and displaced millions more in the region. They have also seen their relations with neighbors and international partners strained because of the coups that brought military juntas to power in each of them.
The latest coup in Niger in July 2023 drove a further wedge between the three and the regional bloc, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which has threatened to use force to restore constitutional rule in Niger. Mali and Burkina Faso have vowed to come to Niger’s aid if it is attacked.
The AES charter says that any attack on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of one or more contracted parties will be considered an aggression against the other parties. It also says that the other states will assist individually or collectively, including with the use of armed force. The charter also commits the three countries to work to prevent or settle armed rebellions.
Mali’s junta leader Assimi Goita announced the signing of the charter on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. He said that he signed it with the heads of state of Burkina Faso and Niger, with the aim of establishing a collective defense and mutual assistance framework for the benefit of their populations.
The three countries were previously members of the France-supported G5 Sahel alliance joint force with Chad and Mauritania, launched in 2017 to tackle Islamist groups in the region. However, Mali left the organization after a military coup in 2020, prompting Niger’s now-ousted President Mohamed Bazoum to say that the force was now dead.
Relations between France and the three states have soured since the coups. France has been forced to withdraw its troops from Mali and Burkina Faso and is in a tense standoff with the junta that seized power in Niger after it asked France to withdraw its troops and its ambassador. France has refused to recognize the authority of the junta.