Counter-Terrorism in West Africa: Who Will Step Forward to Get the Job Done?

By Scott Morgan

The Trump Administration is once again sending mixed signals regarding foreign policy. Generally, not telegraphing moves regarding to strategy or policy does have it benefits, however it has the potential to confound both allies and adversaries when it is determined that an action needs to be undertaken in support of an ally - or against an adversary.

One area where this is taking place is in the current counterterrorism strategy in Africa. As strategists have noticed, the current threats continues to shift. The last eight months have noticed an increase in attacks in Mozambique which has caught some people by surprise. What is also a concern is the seemingly lack of interest by the authorities in Maputo.

Another area of obvious interest or concern has to be the Sahel Region. There are several issues in the region that could either spiral out of control or show no signs of improvement. The first country that comes to mind is Mali. Although it can be said that one of the key factors for the internal strife is the collapse of Libya, the United States' reaction (as well as of other actors such as France) has not yielded major improvements since 2012. Failure to address the situation in Mali has created issues in Niger and Burkina Faso.

One possible resolution for Mali is that after an absence of roughly a year there will be an Ambassador representing the country here in Washington. The wish list of requests for assistance to Mali is substantial. This includes releasing the MCC Compact Funds, frozen after the 2012 Coup, as well as requests for Military Assistance for the Malian Military - as it deals with a dual insurgency in the northern part of the country and a peace process that is becoming drawn out as the country prepares for Presidential elections, in July 2018.

Mali is however not the only nation in the Sahel which is under threat from Jihadist and Insurgent activity and is in need of assistance from outside sources. Niger which has been receiving copious amounts of Military Training and Weapons from the United States, France and now from both Italy and Britain.

The nation that appears to be in the most jeopardy happens to be Burkina Faso. This also appears to be the country in the most need of resources as well. It is part of the TSCTI (Trans Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative) but that is the current limit of aid provided by the United States. France does provide additional support as well. On June 18th, the country revealed a list of 146 insurgents that Burkinabe Law Enforcement were actively seeking. That many men running amok in that part of Africa should raise eyebrows not only in the region but also in Europe as well. So which entity will step forward to provide the desperately needed assistance this country needs?

Niger has been receiving assistance from France and the United States as it deal with its own multifaceted threats. Both threats are transnational as the Mali insurgency often overlaps its border and Boko Haram has spilled across the border from Nigeria into neighboring states, such as Cameroon and Chad. Despite the external threats to the country any internal threats have not been successful in gaining any traction.

It is becoming clear that the multiple threats that are currently taking place within Nigeria will provide a challenge not only to strategists in the West but also among its neighbors as well. The inability to bring Boko Haram down in the Northeast; the emerging threat from the Fulani in the Middle Belt states and the overlooked issues in the Niger Delta present a challenge to people to ask what if Nigeria actually implodes as a result of these pressure points? What is an even more chilling thought is how much impact will this have on the geopolitical order.

The emerging and increasingly bloody offensive in Cameroon - launched by the Francophone Government of Paul Biya against the Anglophone Community in the Western Part of the Country - could influence the situation in Nigeria by creating a new refugee crisis that may result in additional stress against the Nigerian Government.

There have been discussions of a retasking of American Special Forces currently operating in Africa. The above mentioned scenarios either currently have US Troops on the ground providing assistance to host partners or they should take the necessary steps to undertake such an effort as directed either by the President or Congress.

It is becoming clear that Africa may still be a point of interest for the current administration. The threats may shift on a weekly or monthly basis but they cannot be ignored by CT analysts in Washington. 

(Image: AFRICOM - US Department of Defense)

[The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of Dissecting Society. © 2007-2018 Author(s) ALL RIGHTS RESERVED]


  1. Hi Morgan,

    I noted that you left Guinea Bissau and Guinea out: it is also a very important area to follow and it is right next to Mali. And we both know the history of those two countries and how CT analysts and the US Military has been following them for years. A solution is needed. Good job, man!


  2. Glad the Trump administration is looking at Africa.


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