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usnews: Stop the Ghost of the Islamic State from Haunting Africa

Friday 12/April/2019 - 08:52 AM
Sada El Balad
THE COALITION TO defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and in Syria،" President Trump declared in his first State of the Union Address this week. "But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated." President Trump is right to celebrate victories against the Islamic State group in the Middle East، but jihadist fighters are now fleeing to Africa and will bolster homegrown extremist groups in the region. The president's pledge to pursue total victory will ring dangerously hollow unless the U.S. dramatically increases its engagement in Africa and pursues a more comprehensive counterterrorism strategy.

The Islamic State group has long sought to deepen its inroads in Africa، including in Nigeria and Somalia. In the Sahel، a group loyal to the Islamic State group recently claimed responsibility for the ambush that killed four American soldiers last October. And before that، Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared that the group had "expanded and shifted some of our command، media، and wealth to Africa." According to Brigadier General Donald Bolduc، who led U.S. Special Operations Command Africa for two years، the Pentagon's greatest concern in Africa is the spread of the Islamic State group into poorly governed territory.

This frightening outcome is particularly worrying for two reasons. First، the imminent homecoming of some 6،000 African jihadists following the Islamic State's setbacks in the Middle East may bolster the group's presence on African soil and further fuel the activities of Africa-based extremist groups and al-Qaida affiliates. Regardless of their chosen affiliation – and allegiances between African extremist groups are often very fluid – former Islamic State group fighters will exacerbate instability in a region that suffered from 1،827 terror attacks by Islamist militants in 2017 (more than half of which occurred in Somalia).

Second، a precarious degree of state control leaves some African countries vulnerable to advances by extremist groups. In 2012، an overnight coup in Mali opened the door for Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels – awash in weapons from the post-Gadhafi chaos in Libya – to seize territory. It took an intervention by French forces، with support from the United States and regional troops، to block their path. Returning Islamic State group fighters will surely seek out similar opportunities to exploit political or security weak spots. As Rep. Ted Poe warned، the "terrorist cancer in Africa is metastasizing" and "is on its way to becoming a full-blown threat to African and American interests." In other words، the complex constellation of extremist groups in the region already threaten African and Western interests، and a wave of returning fighters will likely worsen the situation.

To some degree، the Trump administration has recognized the terrorism threats emanating from Africa. In response، the White House has taken a strong military focus، including selling fighter planes to Nigeria، intensifying drone strikes in Somalia and increasing the number of troops in Niger. But these efforts lack the comprehensive approach needed for a successful counterterrorism strategy. They do not go far enough to help professionalize African armies or solve systemic capability gaps in security institutions، and sometimes they miss the bigger picture regarding the value of partnering with African countries to fight terrorism. Even the fighter plane deal could stall because the U.S. is unwilling to provide key training for Nigerian technicians.

More fundamentally، military efforts alone are unlikely to defeat terrorism. As a military leader of France's counterterror operation in the Sahel recently remarked، "the root of this problem is not terrorism. It's under-development، trafficking، and the impact of population growth."

U.S. News & World Report
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TOPSHOT - Somalis pray for victims during Friday prayer on October 20، 2017 in Mogadishu on the scene of a massive truck bomb attack in which at least 276 people were killed and 300 injured on October 14 in the deadliest ever attack to hit the conflict-torn nation. Somali President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed vowed on October 18 to step up the war against Al-Shabaab، as he addressed thousands at a rally in Mogadishu for the victims of the city's worst-ever bombing AFP PHOTO Mohamed ABDIWAHAB (Photo credit should read MOHAMED ABDIWAHABAFPGetty Images)(MOHAMED ABDIWAHABAFPGETTY IMAGES)

"THE COALITION TO defeat ISIS has liberated very close to 100 percent of the territory just recently held by these killers in Iraq and in Syria،" President Trump declared in his first State of the Union Address this week. "But there is much more work to be done. We will continue our fight until ISIS is defeated." President Trump is right to celebrate victories against the Islamic State group in the Middle East، but jihadist fighters are now fleeing to Africa and will bolster homegrown extremist groups in the region. The president's pledge to pursue total victory will ring dangerously hollow unless the U.S. dramatically increases its engagement in Africa and pursues a more comprehensive counterterrorism strategy.

The Islamic State group has long sought to deepen its inroads in Africa، including in Nigeria and Somalia. In the Sahel، a group loyal to the Islamic State group recently claimed responsibility for the ambush that killed four American soldiers last October. And before that، Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared that the group had "expanded and shifted some of our command، media، and wealth to Africa." According to Brigadier General Donald Bolduc، who led U.S. Special Operations Command Africa for two years، the Pentagon's greatest concern in Africa is the spread of the Islamic State group into poorly governed territory.

This frightening outcome is particularly worrying for two reasons. First، the imminent homecoming of some 6،000 African jihadists following the Islamic State's setbacks in the Middle East may bolster the group's presence on African soil and further fuel the activities of Africa-based extremist groups and al-Qaida affiliates. Regardless of their chosen affiliation – and allegiances between African extremist groups are often very fluid – former Islamic State group fighters will exacerbate instability in a region that suffered from 1،827 terror attacks by Islamist militants in 2017 (more than half of which occurred in Somalia).

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Second، a precarious degree of state control leaves some African countries vulnerable to advances by extremist groups. In 2012، an overnight coup in Mali opened the door for Islamist fighters and Tuareg rebels – awash in weapons from the post-Gadhafi chaos in Libya – to seize territory. It took an intervention by French forces، with support from the United States and regional troops، to block their path. Returning Islamic State group fighters will surely seek out similar opportunities to exploit political or security weak spots. As Rep. Ted Poe warned، the "terrorist cancer in Africa is metastasizing" and "is on its way to becoming a full-blown threat to African and American interests." In other words، the complex constellation of extremist groups in the region already threaten African and Western interests، and a wave of returning fighters will likely worsen the situation.

To some degree، the Trump administration has recognized the terrorism threats emanating from Africa. In response، the White House has taken a strong military focus، including selling fighter planes to Nigeria، intensifying drone strikes in Somalia and increasing the number of troops in Niger. But these efforts lack the comprehensive approach needed for a successful counterterrorism strategy. They do not go far enough to help professionalize African armies or solve systemic capability gaps in security institutions، and sometimes they miss the bigger picture regarding the value of partnering with African countries to fight terrorism. Even the fighter plane deal could stall because the U.S. is unwilling to provide key training for Nigerian technicians.

More fundamentally، military efforts alone are unlikely to defeat terrorism. As a military leader of France's counterterror operation in the Sahel recently remarked، "the root of this problem is not terrorism. It's under-development، trafficking، and the impact of population growth."

Ignoring Africa Endangers America
Much of Africa's population – with a median age of just 19 years of age – faces chronic unemployment، uneven governance and ballooning inequality. Combined، these challenges create fertile recruitment grounds for extremist groups، including the Islamic State group and al-Qaida affiliates. In West Africa، for instance، youth have signed up to extremist causes for less than $600. While the drivers of radicalization are complex، many African recruits are motivated by economic need and grievances against the state، not ideology. Inflicting territorial or military losses against extremist groups may frustrate their efforts but will not address the underlying socioeconomic dynamics. In short، an effective strategy to counter violent extremism requires helping to create jobs and opportunities for Africa's next generation.

Unfortunately، the Trump administration is headed in the wrong direction. It is weakening U.S.-Africa ties by de-prioritizing high-level relationships with African governments، failing to fill leadership positions related to Africa، and making offensive remarks. This undercuts U.S. resources and influence to support effective counterterrorism efforts on the continent. It is not too late to change course and help advance economic growth and governance in African countries – and defeating the Islamic State group، al-Qaida and other threats to American interests will require it.

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