Homeland Security

Terrorism 'Expanding on a Daily Basis' in the Sahel, Warns Top Security Official

A body is carried away near the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, on Jan. 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Baba Ahmed)

Terrorists are rapidly gaining ground in the Sahel region of Africa, both an African Union security official and the head of the United Nations warned today.

At a press conference after the State of Security in Africa conference in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, AU Commissioner for Peace and Security Smail Chergui declared that “the whole of West Africa is on alert” as “terrorism is expanding almost on a daily basis” — with some of the threat coming from outside of the region as authorities are unprepared for the influx.

The Sahel, south of the Sahara, includes Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan and Eritrea.

The head of U.S. forces in Africa, Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser of the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM), told the Senate Armed Services Committee on Thursday that the “best estimate” officials have for the growth of ISIS West Africa is “probably in the neighborhood of around 3,000 to 4,000” jihadists.

“They have been very aggressive over the summer into this year,” the general added. “They now have taken large pieces of real estate in northern Nigeria and, I think, of the two right now, they’re the one that we have the most concern about because we are not sure what their intentions would be with regards to outside the region. Boko Haram probably around a thousand, bottom line … can’t say for sure whether they’ve been designated or not. I know that we don’t strike them.”

Chergui, a longtime Algerian diplomat, noted that “Burkina Faso now is facing criminal and terrorist attacks not only from its border with Mali but also in the east, with the border on Niger.”

“Increasing numbers of terrorist movements” in the region along with local ethnic clashes that consume security resources have caused “an unprecedented high level of violence and killing of innocent people, destroying their properties in a region that is already relatively poor,” he said.

In 2017, Niger, Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, and Mauritania agreed to establish a G5 Sahel joint counter-terrorism force. Chergui said the members have contributed 5,000 troops, “but there is no equipment” for them.

Separately, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told France24 that terrorists are “progressing” in the region and “we must seriously invest in security and in the development of the Sahel.”

“Their action is more dangerous and expanding,” Guterres said.

He added that he wanted the G5 Sahel force to have a “robust mandate” and guaranteed funding, but acknowledged “it’s a pity” that this support hasn’t materialized.