Meanwhile in Africa

Hany Ghoraba
Thursday 15 Mar 2018

Western countries are risking their own security by ignoring the spread of Islamic State and other terrorist groups in Africa

While all eyes have been focused on the purging of the Islamic State (IS) group in the Middle East and preventing its members from reaching Europe, this group has been very active expanding on the African continent since 2016.

The bombing of the French Embassy and army headquarters in the West African state of Burkina Faso earlier this month delivered a message that has been consistently sent over the past few years but that has been just as consistently ignored by the international community.

The message says that IS and Al-Qaeda are gaining ground and recruiting new members in Africa and that this can no longer be ignored.

The deadly bombing in Burkina Faso was so shocking at least in part because the country has traditionally been far from the centre of terrorist activities.

The earlier bombing in Mogadishu in Somalia in October 2017, which resulted in the killing of at least 655 people and the injuring of 303 others, did not lead to retaliation despite the massive casualties.

These casualties made the Mogadishu bombing the third-worst terrorist attack in history, though readers of the western media may be forgiven for not knowing this, since much-smaller attacks in European cities generally occupy world headlines for weeks, unlike what took place in Somalia.

There is a widespread belief that the massive casualties that result from such attacks are somehow “normal” when they happen in Africa because civil wars and political conflicts are thought to be endless on that continent.

This notion has led many western pundits to ignore the impacts of these horrific attacks as long as they happen far away from the West. However, in truth they will sooner or later affect the West due to mass migration and modern methods of transportation.

Some countries have reacted to the threat of terrorism in Africa, such as Egypt, France and the United States.

But these three are almost the only countries that seem to take the escalating phenomenon seriously, offering assistance ranging from military training and financial aid to the governments of countries afflicted by terrorist activities to military operations, such as those that have been carried out by France and the US.

Egypt was one of the first countries to warn about the escalating activities of terrorists in the Middle East and Africa, and it called upon the international community to unite to nip this danger in the bud. Egypt is currently training the Nigerian air force and assisting it in maintaining military redeployment aircraft such as the CH130 Hercules.

This assistance aims to help the Nigerian government to fight the IS-affiliated Boko Haram group that has been wreaking havoc in the north of the country. Egypt also announced during the African Security Conference held in Sharm El-Sheikh in 2016 that it would provide military training at Egyptian facilities for 1,000 African army officers to assist them in counter-terrorism efforts.

Starting in 2014, France has also been carrying out military operations in Africa, in this case Operation Barkhane, from its headquarters in N’djamena, Chad, in order to assist the Sahel countries of Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Niger in combating IS and Al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups such as Nusrat Al-Islam, Ansar Dine, Morabitoun and Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb that have been attempting to establish a foothold in the region. With 3,000 French troops stationed in Chad, France’s ongoing Operation Barkhane is one of the most important efforts to eradicate the spreading menace of Al-Qaeda and IS in Africa.

From its military base in Mogadishu, the US has conducted military training programmes for Somali forces to fight Al-Shabab group terrorists and has extended operations across Africa.

Many of these have been clandestine, despite their numbering 3,500 missions per year.

A video released this month by IS showing the brutal killing of four soldiers in Niger last October has shed light on the depth of US operations in Africa, which have involved covert operations in some 20 countries.

Despite dozens of ongoing US missions in Africa, these rarely reach the pages of the daily newspapers.

Africa is becoming a hotbed for terrorist groups that have been spreading their venom in already poverty-stricken and war-torn areas of the continent. The miseries of the African countries are starting to be become problems for the European and Western countries as well, as the terrorists continue to expand their operations on the continent.

One result has been the mass migration of African refugees who have been fleeing their homes in search of safer countries, most often in Europe. African jihadists are also likely to move their operations to western countries once they gain strength in Africa, using the continent as a launch pad for attacks on Europe and the Americas.

The terrorist groups are attempting to mimic their early successes in Iraq and Syria by trying to control large areas of the African continent.

They aim to replicate their dream of establishing a “caliphate” in the heart of the continent in order to compensate for their losses in Iraq and Syria.

Despite the efforts exerted by the countries mentioned in this article, these will be far from sufficient without full-scale support from the United Nations in the war against terrorism in Africa.

In a global war against terrorism, no country can afford to sit idly by while others are doing the work on its behalf because it too could soon find itself in the sights of terrorists.

The writer is a political analyst and author of Egypt’s Arab Spring: The Long and Winding Road to Democracy.

*This article was first published in Al-Ahram Weekly 

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