Abu Dhabi


New York

Sat, 14 Dec 2019 04:40 GMT

Can Isis’ Ever-Tightening Grip on West Africa Be Stopped?


Marwa Mashaly

Tue, 13 Aug 2019 08:47 GMT

Despite millions of dollars of humanitarian aids flooding the distressed countries of West Africa for years, and thousands of forces mobilised by the most prominent international actors to protect these countries from terrorism since 2013, the grip of Isis terrorists and its affiliates is tightening immensely on the 5 countries of Sahel reaching to central Africa.

“In Africa, Isis-linked groups are on the rise. These groups now span the African continent from east to west, from north to south,” State Department Counterterrorism Coordinator Ambassador Nathan Sales said last week in a press conference in Washington. He announced the next stage of the counter-Isis campaign will require international coordination to combat the group’s expansion in Africa.

The most significant threat comes from Isis's affiliates in West Africa Province (ISWAP) in Nigeria, Niger, Chad and Cameroon. Since May, Isis has attached insurgent activities in the Mali-Burkina Faso-Niger tri-border area to its affiliate ISWAP. “They have increased the lethality of their attacks, they have expanded into new areas, and they repeatedly target US interests,” Ambassador Nathan Sales said, referring to the killing of four US Special Forces members in Niger in October 2017.

Ambassador Sales’ announcement that a "Coalition meeting on the situation in West Africa and the Sahel is set for autumn", makes many observers question the efficacy of the stationed forces already on the continent by international actors since 2013.

The National Interest Magazine stressed in a recent report that General Thomas Waldhauser, commander of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), testified before the House Armed Services Committee that "America needs higher level political engagement in Africa and not more troops". His testimony was in response to scepticism about the Pentagon’s plan to cut 10% of US troops in Africa by June 2020.

A military inquiry into the killing of four US Special Forces members in Niger revealed that the US base was unprepared for the mission or “an ambush" by a group of Isis terrorist. The American officers had “mischaracterised” the mission in the planning document filed before they departed the base. According to the National Interest Magazine this miscalculation and the unpreparedness were fatal mistakes by AFRICOM that should never happen again.

Ibrahim B. Anoba is managing editor at African Liberty and fellow at America’s Future Foundation. He referred to the incompetence of American AFRICOM troops saying, "The region is complex and requires deep knowledge of the woodlands and plateaus to navigate successfully. The US-trained African forces will be more prepared to lead engagements in these areas."

Just last year, China opened its first military base outside of China in Djibouti, the same country where most US troops in Africa are currently stationed. They are also exploring similar opportunities in Tanzania and elsewhere.

According to Anoba, "Trade and respectful diplomatic relations will reassure Africa that the United States, unlike China and Russia, truly cares about the continent’s overall development. It will also show that America is not just in Africa to protect its national security and economic interests."

France maintains 4,500 troops in the region to help battle insurgents in Niger, Chad and Mali, where it routed Al Qaeda’s affiliate from the north in 2013. French officials said the Pentagon had assured them it would keep providing intelligence, logistics and aerial refuelling, after the gradual withdrawal of US troops.

The New York Times (NYT) reported that "militants have largely outgunned Burkina Faso's military". The US is scheduled to provide about $100 million in support, including vehicles, body armour, radios and night-vision goggles, to the 12,000-member Burkina Faso's military and paramilitary forces over the next two years.

African commanders said they welcome Western assistance but noted the equipment that is provided is not always effective. Four-wheel drive Toyota Land Cruisers given by the US, for example, lack armour to protect against increasingly powerful improvised roadside bombs.

“The terrorists have IEDs [improvised explosive devices] so we need hardened vehicles,” said Captain Amadou Koundy, a Nigerien Special Forces officer who trained in Senegal and at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, US.

“The US's refocus, which has taken resources away from Africa, is short-sighted and in contrast to the long game being used by abusive Islamist groups,” said Corinne Dufka, associate director for West Africa at Human Rights Watch in Washington.

The NYT reported that military analysts referred to the spreading violence in Burkina Faso and its neighbours with the French-led counterterrorism operations in Mali that have been pushing the problem south, into Burkina Faso. Armed Islamic militants have effectively "exploited grievances among local populations".

The Trump administration is providing about $242 million in military aid to the so-called "G5 Sahel" countries; Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania. But the G5 force, ultimately set to grow to 5,000 troops, has been slow to halt the militants’ advance.

Recently, about half a billion dollars has been promised to the G5 Sahel Joint Force initiative by European countries, the European Union, and the US. This promised money is supposed to back the UN Security Council authorisation of "The United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali" (MINUSMA) to provide assistance to the G5 Sahel force in Malian territory. The mission was established in 2013 by United Nations Security Council Resolution 2100 to stabilise the country after the "Tuareg" rebellion of 2012.

Akinola Olojo a transnational threats expert stated, in a report published by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) about the dysfunctional role of humanitarian aid to Nigeria, that ten years of Boko Haram's violence "has turned Nigeria’s north-east into a conflict hotspot for aid organisations".

The United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs noted that about US$1.6 billion would be required to ease hunger, provide shelter and healthcare and help communities rebuild their livelihoods caused by the terrorist acts and poor infrastructure.

The ISS report highlighted the "transnational character of the Boko Haram crisis". The Nigerian government needs to strengthen coordination with countries in the Lake Chad Basin to face this crisis. "The recent Lake Chad Basin Governors’ Forum in mid-July launched the Regional Stabilisation Facility aimed at scaling up the range of interventions in affected countries. To what extent they are implemented remains to be seen." The report stated.

Earlier, in February, the African Union Commissioner for Peace and Security, Ismael Chergui, stated, "The fight against Boko Haram is very expensive due to the immense nature of the territory." The G5 Sahel countries expressed frustration over pledges for $400 million towards the fight of terrorist militants, made at 'The International High Level Conference' in Brussels. “We have managed to collect $70 million of the total pledged," Ismael Chergui added.

Hundreds of African and foreign terrorists unstoppably infiltrate the Sahel countries from the west, spreading to the central of Africa. It is a fact outlined by another report published by (ISS).

Last year, 13 Senegalese nationals were convicted for acts of terrorism by criminal association. Twelve of them had joined Boko Haram in Nigeria. The 13th joined Katiba al-Furqan, a branch of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali. The convicted Senegalese crossed several countries during their journey, moving from Kaolack in Senegal and passing through Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger, en route to Abadam in north-east Nigeria. This incident is an obvious example of "the transnational nature of violent extremism" which "is facilitated by ineffective border control of West African states, particularly in some areas on the Libya-Niger-Nigeria migration axis," the ISS reported.

In 2017, The African Union (AU) estimated that 6000 Africans could return from Syria, but West African states have little data on the issue. Few governments in the region report on how many of their nationals have joined Isis in Syria and Iraq, Libya, Nigeria or Mali, even after the United Nations Security Council resolutions in 2014 and 2017 called on states to control their borders and exchange information to stem the flow of this infiltration.