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Violent Counterterrorism in The Sahel

By Makayla Bangoura 

The Sahel region of Africa is no stranger to violent extremism, however, within the past decade the region has seen an uptick in counterterrorism. The rise of counterterrorism has not only resulted in a major humanitarian crisis but has also brought political and economic instability. The region spans from Senegal to Eritrea with the nations of Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Chad, and Nigeria being the center of the violence. There are currently four active extremist groups working within these states, and these terrorist groups have increasingly gained strength. 


The Liptako-Gourma region which encompasses the states of Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso have seen the emergence of three major terrorist groups since the 2011 fall of the Libyan government, and the influx of extremist fighters making their way into Mali. The collapse of the Libyan government and the increase in armed violence was followed by the resurgence of minority liberation groups in the state of Mali that aligned themselves with extremist Islamic groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), and Ansar Dine in Northern Mali. During a coup in 2012, President Amadou Toumani Touré of Mali was removed from his position due to his inability to control the rebels, pushing these minority liberation groups to form independent states. The liberation group, the National Movement for the Liberation of Azwad (MNLA), broke their allegiance to AQIM, after their attempt to instate Islamic law. In 2013 Mali began to make the necessary transition to become a unified state again under Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta who was able to broker a peace treatment between the liberation groups in 2015. However, because the Islamist terrorist groups were excluded from this peace agreement, their terrorist attacks have surged since they were not obliged to follow what was outlined in the treaty. 

Up until 2021 the extremist group Boko Haram carried out violent attacks in the Lake Chad Basin, which includes Nigeria, Chad, and Niger. Boko Haram originated in Nigeria around 2002 but made a reemergence around 2011. The group is known for utilizing more aggressive uses of force in their attacks, evidenced by attacks such as the suicide car bomb attacks on the U Nations headquarters in Abuja, Nigeria. In 2015 Boko Haram made a statement of allegiance to the Islamic State (ISIS) and changed its name to the Islamic State in the West African Province (ISWAP). Since this rebrand, ISAWP has been able to claim the territory of the last remaining Boko Haram factions, parts of the remote islands of Lake Chad, and has full control of Northeastern Nigeria and part of Niger.  


Recent Developments 

In 2015 a coalition of five African states from the Sahel region came together to create the G5 Sahel Joint Force. These states include Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger, and their mission is to discuss the growing threat of terrorism in the region and find a solution to enhance safety and security in the region. The United States has extended its logistical support to the G5 and deployed troops to the region alongside France, and 15,000 UN peacekeepers. However, the growing international attention to the crisis has caused an increase in militancy in the region leading the United Nations to call their intervention in the region their “most dangerous military mission.” In 2022, French President Emmanuel Macron announced that French troops would be pulled out of the region, along with troops from its fellow European countries. In May of 2022, the government of Mali announced the departure of the G5 Sahel Joint Force due to concerns that the alliance did not effectively prevent the violence and their inability to convene in Mali. Mali exiting the G5 has decreased the strength and validity of the alliance. 

The extreme violence that has been occurring in the Sahel region has internally displaced 2.6 million people in Liptako-Gourma and 2.8 million people in the Lake Chad Basin and caused 1.7 million people to flee as refugees. The Sahel region is also at the forefront of the climate crisis which has amplified the severity of the situation, as civilians must endure extreme temperatures, and compete for scarce resources. According to the World Health Organization, the maternal mortality rate is 100 times higher, and the COVID-19 pandemic caused a spike in deaths due to poor access to proper health care. Throughout the crisis, the United States has been the highest donor of humanitarian aid, donating a total of 1.8 billion dollars in 2023. 


The state of the Sahel region has been continuously deteriorating for over a decade. As an unprecedented humanitarian crisis rages on, the region must grapple with violent political and economic stability, leaving many lives hanging in the balance. It will be important to see how this crisis plays out in the future. It is important for the international community to keep applying pressure on the governments, and push for peace in the region. In addition, it is crucial for the United Nations, specifically the Security Council, to pass resolutions that properly address the crisis and condemn the actors that are causing harm. With the millions of individuals displaced from their homes, the growing strength of extremist groups, and the decreasing international pressure, it may be decades until the international community can see these crises conclude.  



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