The United States military has warned that an Islamic State affiliate operating in western Africa poses a more significant danger to the region than even the Boko Haram terrorist group.
Colonel Stephen Wertz, commanding the AFRICOM operations in western Africa said Islamic State West Africa, is gaining strength from former Boko Haram fighters who broke away from the Abubakar Shekau faction around 2016 because IS in Syria had selected the son of Yusuf Mohammed, the founder of the Jihadi group over Shekau.
The US army warns that this group, with ties to the core ISIS leadership in Syria and Iraq, has become more sophisticated in battlefield tactics than Boko Haram and is making inroads among local populations.
“Our greater concern now is the splinter group,” Wertz said on Friday, February 16, “We see them as a longer term strategic threat.”
AFRICOM, which has been operating in western Africa for years, noted that in a decade, the range of threats in the African continent has increased in places like Libya and the countries in the Lake Chad Basin area, which also includes Nigeria.
Boko Haram declared a caliphate in 2014 and took over many local councils around the Lake Chad all the way to Gwoza and the Cameroon boarders, making Gwoza its headquarters.
Boko Haram is fighting to impose Islamic sharia law across Nigeria. The terror group has used suicide bombs, heavy artillery and guerrilla tactics to attack both civilian and military facilities and populations targeting churches, Christians and their businesses in the region.
“Their strength is their persistence, but they are not what they were three years ago,” an AFRICOM official said. Unlike Shekau’s Boko Haram terror sect, the ISIS in West Africa is operating with more discipline, “they have a more strategic view point of what is going on,” the AFRICOM official said, rather than the high-profile attacks on civilians like its other sect.
Threats by radical Islamists from western Africa, especially from Niger, Nigeria and Mali have been complicated by the emergence a mix of different extremist groups. Radical Islamic sects have changed sides, and developed alliances and allegiances under new names, further complicating the challenges.
The ambush in October last year which killed 4 green berets in Niger, has put the operations of the American operations under scrutiny. Findings of the investigations are soon to be finalized and the operations of US special forces reviewed.
Hassan John is West Africa Editor, GCN and Priest of the Anglican Diocese of Jos
Image Credits: Google Images/AFRICOM images