ECOWAS military intervention in the Gambia
|2017 ECOWAS military intervention in the Gambia|
|Part of the 2016-2017 Gambian constitutional crisis and the Casamance conflict|
Pro-Jammeh forcesForeign mercenaries
|Commanders and leaders|
Yahya Jammeh |
Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta
1,733 foreign mercenaries
1 warship NNS Unity (F92)
~125 Gambian navy soldiers
|Casualties and losses|
|26,000–46,000 people displaced|
The ECOWAS military intervention in the Gambia or the ECOWAS Mission in The Gambia (abbreviated ECOMIG) – code-named Operation Restore Democracy – is an ongoing military intervention in the Gambia by several West African countries. The intervention was launched to resolve a breakdown of internal order in the government of the Gambia that resulted from a dispute over the country's presidency. The dispute had led to a constitutional crisis in the country. The intervention began in January 2017, and in June 2017, the term of the ECOWAS military mission was extended by a year.
The brief period of open conflict at the beginning of the mission was precipitated by the refusal to step down from power of Yahya Jammeh, the long-standing President of the Gambia, after he disputed the victory of Adama Barrow in the 2016 presidential election.
As a result of the intervention, Jammeh was forced to step down and go into exile two days after the initial military incursion. Following his departure, 4,000 ECOWAS troops remained in the Gambia to maintain order in preparation for Barrow to return and consolidate his presidency. Five days later, Barrow returned to the Gambia while requesting the ECOWAS troops (now numbering about 2,500) to stay for at least six months to help him firmly establish order. Although there were a few reports of isolated minor clashes during the first few hours of the military incursion, there were no reports of casualties in the initial conflict. In the following months, two people have been reported killed and about ten injured in incidents surrounding protests against the continued military presence in the community.
The Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) decided to intervene militarily in the Gambian constitutional crisis that occurred as a result of Gambian President Yahya Jammeh refusing to step down after losing the December 2016 presidential election, and set 19 January 2017 as the date the troops would move into the Gambia if Jammeh continued to refuse to step down. The operation was codenamed "Operation Restore Democracy". ECOWAS forces were amassed around the borders of the Gambia, and Marcel Alain de Souza, the president of ECOWAS, said, "By land, sea and air, Gambia is surrounded. A total of 7,000 men will participate in the mission to re-establish democracy in Gambia." In contrast, the entire armed forces of the Gambia numbered only about 2,500 troops.
Just after Barrow was sworn in, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) unanimously approved UNSC Resolution 2337 on the same day, which expressed support for ECOWAS efforts to negotiate the transition of the presidency, but requested the use of "political means first" without endorsing military action.
Despite the lack of endorsement of military action by the UNSC, Senegalese armed forces entered the Gambia on the same day, along with some forces from Ghana, with air and sea support from the Air Force and Navy of Nigeria. Gambia was placed under a naval blockade.
In the early hours of the offensive, clashes took place near the border village of Kanilai, the home town of Yahya Jammeh, between Senegalese and pro-Jammeh MFDC forces, and Senegal reportedly took control of the village. Senegal halted its offensive in order to provide a final chance to mediate the crisis, with the invasion planned to proceed at noon on 20 January if Jammeh still refused to relinquish power.
According to a statement given by the United Nations Refugee Agency on 20 January based on estimates provided by the government of Senegal, around 45,000 people had been displaced and had fled to Senegal, and at least 800 more people had fled to Guinea-Bissau. More than 75% of the displaced people arriving in Senegal were children, with the remainder being mostly women.
Jammeh, however, refused to step down even after the deadline passed. The deadline was extended to 16:00 GMT which too he missed. Mauritania's President Mohamed Ould Abdel Aziz, President of Guinea Alpha Condé and United Nations' regional chief Mohammed Ibn Chambas tried to persuade him to step down. Gambia's army chief General Ousman Badjie meanwhile pledged allegiance to Barrow and stated that the Gambian Army would not fight ECOWAS. Barrow and a Senegalese official later stated that Jammeh had agreed to step down. Diplomats meanwhile stated that Senegalese troops would remain deployed at the border in case he reneged on the deal. A deal was later announced for him to leave the country for exile, and a short time later he announced on state television that he was stepping down.
After Jammeh went into exile on 21 January (initially going to Guinea and then to Equatorial Guinea), ECOWAS announced that about 4,000 of its troops would remain stationed in the country for ensuring security.
On 26 January 2017, Barrow returned to the Gambia, while about 2,500 ECOWAS troops remained in the country to stabilise it. He requested the troops to remain in the country for an additional six months. The troops remained in Banjul, and at important locations such as the port and airport as well as at the main crossing points to Senegal.
On 8 February 2017, the Gambian presidential office announced that the mandate of the mission would be extended by three more months. President of Ghana Nana Akufo-Addo stated in mid-February that the number of Ghanaian soldiers deployed for stabilisation of Gambia will be downsized to 50.
On 21 April 2017, ECOWAS forces clashed with Gambian soldiers loyal to former leader Yahya Jammeh, shooting and injuring three who were guarding graves at his home. A Gambia Armed Forces spokesman said there was a misunderstanding and an investigation is in progress. One civilian was declared by Gambian government to have been killed in Kanilai in a protest against ECOWAS forces while a civilian and an ECOMIG officer was declared to be injured on 2 June, with 22 arrests made.
On 2 June 2017, one protester was shot dead and nine were wounded by Senegalese soldiers in Kanilai after soldiers opened fire on protesters in what they claim as "self-defense" during a protest in which thousands participated against the heavy military presence in their community.
The term of the ECOWAS military mission was extended by a year on 5 June.
The Gambian army chief declared that the army would not involve itself in a political dispute, while the navy chose to declare its support for Barrow. However, some paramilitaries and mercenaries stayed loyal to Jammeh. The Senegalese rebel group Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance reportedly joined pro-Jammeh forces and there were reported clashes on the border with Senegal.
United States Assistant Secretary of State for Public Affairs John Kirby announced that the United States was supportive of the intervention. United Kingdom's Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs Boris Johnson called on Jammeh to step down and praised "African organisations which are working to ensure the democratic wishes of the Gambian people will be respected", adding that the presidential elections had been free and fair.
The UN Security Council voted unanimously on 19 January to pass United Nations Security Council Resolution 2337 requesting a peaceful transition of power. The resolution did not endorse the use of military force. It instead requested ECOWAS to pursue "political means first".
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