The U.S. is preparing long-term assistance for Ivory Coast, Benin and Togo as fears grow that jihadist violence in the Sahel is spreading to Africa’s west coast. U.S. prepares to help coastal West African countries confront jihadists:
U.S. prepares to help coastal West African countries confront jihadists
Officials said Western support is also crucial to curbing the Russian mercenary group, Wagner, after it achieved great success in violence-torn Sahel countries, including an alliance with Mali’s ruling army.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris visited Ghana last month as part of a U.S. campaign for progress in Africa. He announced $100 million over 10 years to build resilience in West Africa’s coastal areas.
State Department officials are also considering additional funding, including from the counterterrorism budget.
In a new comprehensive strategy to prevent war and promote stability, President Joe Biden’s administration has identified the West African coast as a priority for the next decade.
The report, released in March, stated that the Sahel region, up to the adjacent north, had been hit by more terrorist attacks than any other region and that there was a need to “prevent violent conflict from breaking out or spreading to all parts of the region.
Coastal cities connected to the world by ports have not been affected, but violence has intensified in the border areas of Mali and Burkina Faso.
“It’s a significant and growing threat,” Michael Heath, deputy assistant secretary of state for West Africa, told FLA. It’s a concern for us because the capabilities of existing governments have never been faced with a threat like this before.
“They’re trying to manage this and we’re trying to figure out what kind of tools they need,” said Heath, who recently returned from a trip to the region with other State Department officials to assess needs.
He said he had not yet noticed a presence in the three countries of the Wagner Group, which is accused of human rights abuses in several countries, including Ukraine, where it plays a major role in the invasion.
“We need to solve the security problem”
“They don’t exist on the coast of West Africa yet, but we know they are looking for opportunities to take advantage of instability wherever they see it,” Heath said.
U.S. officials accuse Russia of stepping up disinformation in Francophone Africa, targeting an audience that has not forgotten the colonial era.
Concerns in the Sahel about violence, as well as in Russia, have increased in recent months since France ended an eight-year campaign against jihadists and was criticized for its overemphasis on military solutions.
U.S. officials said the West African coast would not experience violence if it did not spread from the north, noting at the same time that instability could also result from local factors and competition for resources that climate change exacerbates their scarcity.
They added that part of the focus of aid would be to reduce economic gaps that would help recruit extremists.
“Clearly, we want to help governments that are more interested in taking a comprehensive approach and good governance to solving problems in the North, where resources are scarce,” said Gregory LeGervaux, a senior State Department counterterrorism official who participated in the trip.
U.S. officials said a key area is helping West African governments build their legal systems so they can distinguish between legitimate refugees fleeing the Sahel and security threats.
“There are a lot of people with family ties across the border in Burkina Faso and elsewhere,” Le Gervaux said.
He added: “We need an administrative system that does not impose restrictions on families or the economy, and we also need to solve the security problem.”
Hostility toward France has grown among residents of coastal countries
And U.S. military officials, who are leading annual counterterrorism exercises in West Africa, urged countries in the Sahel region to rely on each other to contain the growing Islamic rebellion and not on non-Western powers, after Mali asked for help from mercenaries from Russia’s Wagner group.
The French operation, dubbed “Operation Barkhane,” failed to halt the jihadists’ advance, prompting Paris to decide to stop waging the war on terror in the Sahel and Sahara region.
At the height of the mission, French forces numbered 5,500. The operation was launched in 2013 with the aim of stopping the advance of Islamist militants in Mali. Other countries involved in the operation were Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso and Mauritania.
However, the operation was met with widespread use by armed groups belonging to al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and clashes with them led to increased casualties among French forces (58 dead), prompting military and political leaders in Paris to question its effectiveness.
Hostility toward France has increased among residents of coastal countries involved in “Operation Barkhane.” Social media and the spread of fake news helped fuel popular anger at the presence of French forces, which made the operation, at the expense of the French, dangerous and unnecessary.