UN: Africa’s Sahel desperately needs help to fight violent extremism and stop its spread
May 16, 2023, 2:39 PM
UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Africa’s Sahel region has become a hot spot for violent extremism, but the joint force set up in 2014 to combat groups linked to the Islamic State, al-Qaida and others has failed to stop their inroads, and a senior U.N. official warned Tuesday that without greater international support and regional cooperation the instability will expand toward West African coastal countries.
“Resolute advances in the fight against terrorism, violent extremism and organized crime in the Sahel desperately need to be made,” U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Africa Martha Pobee told a U.N. Security Council meeting.
The counterterrorism force, now comprised of Burkina Faso, Chad, Mauritania and Niger, lost Mali a year ago when its ruling junta decided to pull out. Pobee said the force hasn’t conducted any major military operations since January.
She said the force is adjusting to new realities: France moving its counterterrorism force from Mali to Niger due to tensions with the junta and Mali’s decision to allow Russian mercenaries from Wagner to deploy on its territory.
She said Burkina Faso and Niger have recently strengthened military cooperation with Mali to counter an upsurge in extremist attacks, but “despite these efforts, insecurity in the tri-border area continues to grow.”
To help African countries stem the extremist threat, the United States held a two-week military training exercise in counter-insurgency tactics in Ghana and Ivory Coast, where extremist violence is spreading from the Sahel region.
U.N. experts have reported in recent years that Africa has been the region hardest hit by terrorism, and U.N. counterterrorism chief Vladimir Voronkov told the Security Council in January that the Islamic State group’s expansion in Africa’s center, south and Sahel regions is “particularly worrying.”
Last August, African security expert Martin Ewi said at least 20 African countries were directly experiencing activity by the Islamic State group, and more than 20 others were “being used for logistics and to mobilize funds and other resources.”
Ewi, who coordinates a transnational organized crime project at the Institute for Security Studies in South Africa’s capital, Pretoria, told the Security Council that the Islamic State threat was growing by the day in Africa and the continent could be “the future of the caliphate,” which is what the Islamic State called the large swath of Syria and Iraq it seized in 2014 but lost in 2017.
Ewi said the Lake Chad Basin — which borders Chad, Nigeria, Niger and Cameroon — was the extremist group’s biggest area of operation and areas in the Sahel were now “ungovernable.”
Pobee warned that without significant gains in fighting terrorism, “it will become increasingly difficult to reverse the security trajectory in the Sahel, and the further expansion of insecurity towards coastal West African countries.”
She said the recent instability in Sudan was an additional cause for concern. “The devastating effects of the continuing destabilization of the Sahel would be felt far beyond the region and the African continent,” Pobee said