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AFRICOM: Al-Qaeda, ISIS Unity Efforts Threaten Lake Chad Basin

AFRICOM: Al-Qaeda, ISIS Unity Efforts Threaten Lake Chad Basin

Thursday, 20 January, 2022 - 08:00
AFRICOM commander General Stephen Townsend shaking hands with the head of the Libyan unity government, Abdel Hamid Dabaiba, and next to them, Ambassador Richard Norland (US Embassy in Libya)

Last year, the US withdrawal from wars in Somalia and Afghanistan turned attention to other theaters of conflicts around the world to see if they, in turn, would witness similar US regression. Such a scenario poses risks threatening the fall of regimes and the growth of the influence of extremist movements.

The withdrawal of US forces from Somalia in early 2021 prompted an escalation of attacks by Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda’s branch of in the Horn of Africa. The attacks were met by Somali government forces weakened by inner conflict.

In Afghanistan, the picture was clearer and more decisive.

Shortly after the US pulled out in August, the Kabul government fell and was replaced by the Taliban.

Such a scenario can be repeated in other areas from which the Americans decide to withdraw, especially in the African continent, where many countries are witnessing political conflicts and civil wars.

To date, the US remains engaged through its military command in Africa (AFRICOM) as part of Washington’s efforts to counter Al-Qaeda and ISIS in Sahel countries.

Americans have also warned Africans of the “risks” of using mercenaries from the Russian Wagner Group, which are now widespread in many African countries, including Mali and Libya.

The US relationship with Sudan, which witnessed remarkable heat during 2020, seems to have turned cold considering the conflict between the military and civil components of the Sudanese government.

In 2021, Tunisia was a focus of US military activity in North Africa.

France has led efforts to confront militants in Mali since 2012, but it has failed in eliminating them despite the support it receives from several countries led by the US.

AFRICOM Spokeswoman told Asharq Al-Awsat that they are aware of reports that Mali may have hired the services of a Russian-backed special military group known as the Wagner Group.

"If we take into account the record of (the Wagner Group), it is clear that any role played by the forces of this group supported by Russia will most likely worsen the delicate and unstable conditions in Mali, and complicate the international response aimed at supporting the transitional government,” she explained.

The US Department of Defense suspended security cooperation and military training for the Malian armed forces following the August 2020 coup.

She noted that they work to encourage the restoration of security and safety for the Malian people and to encourage a successful transition towards legitimate and constitutional governance in Mali.

ISIS and Al-Qaeda have suffered two strong losses in Nigeria during the past year.

Abubakar Shekau, leader of the Boko Haram group, loyal to Al-Qaeda, was killed in May. He blew himself up after his ISIS rivals surrounded him.

However, ISIS did not benefit much from this setback for its opponents as its leader Abu Musab al-Barnawi was also killed later in October.

It is not entirely clear how relations will manifest in the future between these two competing terror organizations and whether the conflict between them will continue. There is a possibility that they will unite their ranks against the Nigerian government.

AFRICOM is aware of the reported death of the two leaders, Shekau and al-Barnawi.

“As troubling as it may be, it is difficult to predict how these two groups will bring their fighters and capabilities together into a more coherent terrorist effort,” warned the command’s spokeswoman.

She explained that a united effort by these two groups could dramatically destabilize the Lake Chad Basin region if there is no substantive and coordinated multinational intervention.

The developing situation in the eastern Sahel region, in addition to the continued expansion of the al-Qaeda affiliate, Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin, towards the western and central Sahel region, should be a cause for increasing international concern.

According to the spokeswoman, no country alone can solve the problems associated with terrorism.

“We continue to monitor the situation and continue to support our African and international partners who are fighting on the frontlines against violent extremism.”

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