Africa: Terrorism Poses Growing Threat in Africa’s Sahel, Germany Warns

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The security situation in Africa’s Sahel is deteriorating, with terrorism threatening both soldiers and civilians, according to Germany’s Defense Ministry. The UN’s peacekeeping mission has thus far proven ineffective.

Germany’s opposition, business-friendly Free Democratic Party (FDP) recently submitted a formal inquiry to the government in Berlin about its military operations in Africa’s Sahel region. In its response, the Defense Ministry painted a bleak picture of the situation, stating that “jihadist groups active in the region are enjoying largely unfettered freedom of movement and can, in part thanks to the local population, act as they wish.” The classified document, which German news agency DPA has seen, also states that “broad, sparsely populated areas with little or no state control allow criminal and jihadist networks to operate.”

The Sahel, a semiarid corridor south of the Sahara desert that stretches from Africa’s Atlantic coast to the Red Sea, spans numerous countries, including Senegal, Mauritania, Burkina Faso and Mali. A recent terrorist attack in Burkina Faso left over 100 people dead, including many civilians. In Niger, 14 security personnel were killed in an attack over the Christmas period. And earlier this month, hundreds of jihadist fighters launched an attack on a Niger army base, killing 71 soldiers. According to the UN, conflict and violence have displaced half-a-million civilians in Burkina Faso alone.

Germany’s Defense Ministry says that Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM) and the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS), two al-Qaida-affiliated groups, are largely responsible for the region’s deteriorating security situation. It says both instrumentalize ethnic tensions in the region for their own agenda, and that Mali’s security forces are often overwhelmed by these fighters — despite the presence of international forces, such as Germany’s, on the ground.

Germany rejects dispatch of special forces

France has twice requested the dispatch of European special forces to tackle Mali’s dangerous security situation. Specifically, France called for the creation of a Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force. Germany, however, twice turned down the request, as the Defense Ministry statement reveals.

In 2014, France launched the anti-terrorism mission Operation Barkhane in Mali and other Sahel region countries. It has committed some 4,500 soldiers to the mission. Germany, meanwhile, has dispatched 1,100 soldiers to Mali as part of the largely ineffective UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), as well as the European Union Training Mission in Mali (EUTM Mali). MINUSMA is one of most dangerous UN missions to date, with 180 troops killed since the operation began some six years ago. Scores of troops have also been seriously wounded during that time.