US military downgrades efforts against extremists in West Africa
THE US military has switched from trying to degrade Islamic extremist groups in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region to merely trying to contain them as their deadly threat increases, a US government report says.
The top concerns in Africa include the fast-growing threat from multiple extremist groups in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert and the enduring threat by the al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab in Somalia, which consistent pressure on extremist groups is needed to weaken them, the report says, citing Defence Secretary Mark Esper, who has compared it with “mowing the lawn”.
That need, along with the often slow development of local partners’ militaries, “could require ongoing commitment of US military resources”, the report adds.
It also says the US Africa Command has expressed concerns to the Pentagon’s inspector general that some resources will be moved from Somalia to Libya, where about 6 000 US military personnel are deployed across Africa, including 500 special operations forces in Somalia and about 800 personnel in West Africa.
The security situation in extremist groups linked to the Islamic State group and al-Qaeda in West Africa “are neither degraded nor contained”, the new report warns, citing Africom.
The new US military strategy has changed from trying to degrade, or reduce the effectiveness, of those extremist groups in the Sahel to trying to keep them from growing their membership and spreading into new areas, Africom told the Pentagon inspector general in late December.
Mali’s president Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta this week told French media his government had 1 000 to 2 000 fighters and its goal was to “unite all terrorist groups in the Sahel and eliminate Western influence in the region”, the new US report says.
The US military in the Sahel largely supports the militaries of France and local countries in their fight against the extremists.