ISIS, Al-Qaeda threaten West African region, U.S. military warns
The Islamic State (ISIS) and Al-Qaeda are threats to West Africa, where international efforts to counter terrorist groups are insufficient, Head of the United States (U.S.) Africa Command (AFRICOM), General Stephen Townsend, has said, citing Stars and Stripes reports.
He stated this while testifying before the House Armed Services Committee in the United States (U.S.) yesterday, insisting that the groups were ‘on the march’ in the region.
He warned that militant groups operating in Africa’s Sahel region, which includes Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso, could extend their reach to coastal states of Nigeria, Ghana and Benin Republic.
“If we don’t turn this around in West Africa, I think it will become a growing threat in the region,” he stressed.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates in West Africa are now coordinating efforts in some cases, which is unusual for terrorist groups that are generally rivals, Townsend said, adding, “I can’t really explain that cooperation. I think it is a local phenomenon.”
Concerns over the growing power of militants in Africa is coming as the Pentagon reviews the AFRICOM mission and whether troop cutbacks are needed to focus assets in other areas such as the Pacific.
Townsend described the current U.S. force level in Africa as “a bargain for the American taxpayer,” saying, “A few troops and a few bucks can go a long way in Africa.”
But Townsend only stopped short of requesting more American forces to counter ISIS and Al-Qaeda-linked groups in West Africa, where European military forces, especially of the French are in the lead.
“Europe can and should do more before America does more,” he said, adding that challenges of instability in West Africa will be felt in Europe before the U.S.
According to him, the main challenge now is ‘uncoordinated’ efforts between various military forces fighting extremism in the Sahel.
Since 2018, violence caused by militant groups has surged by 250 per cent in Burkina Faso, Mali and western Niger, the Pentagon’s Inspector General said in a report last month.
In the last two years, the U.S. has scaled back some missions in the region because of previous cutbacks and as a result, AFRICOM’s strategy of ‘degrading’ extremist groups in the west of the continent has shifted to ‘containing’ terrorism, the IG said.
There are about 6,000 American military personnel in Africa at any given time and most of the troops are concentrated in the East African country of Djibouti, where the U.S. has its main operational base on the continent and neighboring Somalia where troops are helping local forces to battle the Al-Shabab extremist group.
Townsend said he was satisfied with the number of troops and assets in Africa, adding, “Today, I think AFRICOM has adequate resources to do what we are mandated to do.”