December 1, 2022

Global coalition vows to defeat ISIS in Africa amid disturbing rise in violent extremism from the Sahel to the Horn

U.S. Airmen conduct a training scenario during exercise Patriot Warrior 2019 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, Aug. 16, 2019. Patriot Warrior is Air Force Reserve Command's premier exercise providing Airmen an opportunity to train with joint and international partners in airlift, aeromedical evacuation, and mobility support. The exercise builds on our capabilities for the future fight, increasing the readiness, lethality and agility of the Air Force Reserve. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)
U.S. Airmen conduct a training scenario during exercise Patriot Warrior 2019 at Fort McCoy, Wisconsin, August 16, 2019. Patriot Warrior is Air Force Reserve Command's premier exercise providing Airmen an opportunity to train with joint and international partners in airlift, aeromedical evacuation, and mobility support. The exercise builds on our capabilities for the future fight, increasing the readiness, lethality and agility of the Air Force Reserve. (U.S. Air Force Photo by Tech. Sgt. Gregory Brook)
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The Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS met in Niamey, Niger republic, on October 26, and vowed to continue the fight against the terrorists, as the continent sees a disturbing rise in extremism from the Sahel to the Horn of Africa.

It was the first time that the Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS Africa Focus Group had met since its establishment in December 2021.

In a joint statement, the U.S., Morocco, Niger and Italy vowed to continue “confronting and defeating ISIS in Africa and elsewhere in the world where it operates.”

The meeting, which took place at the invitation of Niger, was co-chaired by Italy, Morocco, Niger, and the United States.

The Africa Focus Group is African-led and is a collaborative, civilian led counterterrorism effort that draws upon the Defeat ISIS Coalition’s experiences in Iraq and Syria and adapts them to counter specific ISIS and other terrorist group affiliates in the region,” they said.

The meeting occurred as Africa sees a rise in extremism from Mali in the Sahel, Nigeria in West Africa, to Somalia in the Horn of Africa.

On Thursday, the U.S. government ordered non-emergency diplomatic staff and their families to leave Nigerian capital Abuja over “heightened risk of terrorist attacks.”

“The Travel Advisory for Nigeria has been updated due to a heightened risk of terrorist attacks in Abuja. We recommend U.S. citizens do not travel to Abuja at this time.  In addition, on October 27, 2022, the Department ordered the departure of family members of U.S. government employees from Abuja due to heightened risk of terrorist attacks, following on the October 25 authorization of departure of non-emergency U.S. government employees and family members from Abuja due to heightened risk of terrorist attacks,” said the U.S. embassy in Abuja.

In Mali, Islamist armed groups aligned with the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS) have attacked dozens of villages and massacred scores of civilians in Mali’s vast northeast regions of Ménaka and Gao, which border Niger. These attacks have largely targeted ethnic Dawsahak, a Tuareg ethnic group.

“Islamist armed groups in northeast Mali have carried out terrifying and seemingly coordinated attacks on villages, massacring civilians, looting homes, and destroying property,” said Jehanne Henry, senior Africa adviser at Human Rights Watch. “The Malian government needs to do more to protect villagers at particular risk of attack and provide them greater assistance.”

The organization urged Malian security forces and United Nations peacekeepers to “bolster their presence in the affected regions, ramp up protection patrols, and help authorities provide justice for victims and their families.”

With terrorism on the rise, the Malian government invited Wagner mercenaries from Russia to help, a decision the U.S. government has described as “unfortunate,” with a top U.S. diplomat Victoria Nuland warning again on Wednesday that Russian Wagner mercenaries are wreaking havoc across Africa, particularly in Mali and the Sahel region.

Nuland, the Under Secretary for Political Affairs, U.S. Department of State, briefed reporters from Washington D.C. following her October 16-20 travel to Mauritania, Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso.

On Mali, Nuland warned that although the interim government is committed to meeting the agreed timeline of elections in 2024, “however, there are going to be a number of challenges, largely having to do with security across the country.”

“And security is in fact, becoming more difficult as Wagner forces and others take on a larger role in the country and squeeze out UN peacekeepers and as incidents of terror have risen some 30% in the last six months,” she said.

Nuland described the decision by the interim government in Mali to invite Wagner mercenaries as “unfortunate and bad.”

She said, “And unfortunately, in the case of Mali, it has resulted in that government, that interim government, making some very bad choices in inviting Wagner forces to be part of their security mix. And we see the results. As I said earlier, with violence and terror going up and the UN forces being pushed out.”

The Sahel has seen the most rapid growth in violent extremist activity of any region in Africa over the past two years, notes the Africa Center for Strategic Studies.

“The region is also a nexus of criminal networks and illicit trafficking and has experienced a rise in farmer-herder violence. The Sahel, moreover, has the fastest population growth rate on the continent, despite being among the poorest and facing some of the most fragile environmental conditions. Consequently, migrants from the Sahel constitute a significant share of those trying to cross the Mediterranean into Europe,” the center adds.

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