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Jihadists spread from the Sahel to the West African coast

#Jihadists #spread #Sahel #West #African #coast

Their campaign began a decade ago in northern Mali, penetrated the country’s powder keg center and from there to neighboring Niger and Burkina Faso.

Now there are growing fears that the ruthless jihadists wreaking havoc in the Sahel are heading for the West African coast.

After several incursions, including deadly attacks in the northern regions of Benin, Côte d’Ivoire and Togo, the Gulf of Guinea governments are reviewing their strategy.

Their main concerns, analysts say, are how to avoid repeating the mistakes of their Sahel neighbors and how best to mobilize foreign support.

After the Malian junta took power in August 2020, the country’s relations with Paris went into a downward spiral, triggering a withdrawal of French troops that was completed on Monday.

Last month, Benin’s President Patrice Talon told his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron that his country needs more equipment, especially drones.

Among the coastal states, northern Benin has been hardest hit by the growing jihadist threat, with around 20 attacks on security forces since the end of 2021.

“What we are going through is appalling,” a Beninese official stationed on the border with Burkina Faso told AFP on condition of anonymity.

“We wake up every morning not knowing if we’re going to survive the day,” he added.

Macron said France was committed to the “fight against terrorism” in West Africa, despite its exit from Mali.

He said he was willing to attend meetings of the “Accra Initiative” – ​​a body established in 2017 to promote security cooperation between countries in the region.

– Recruitment –

“The deteriorating security situation in Burkina Faso and Mali has made the north of the coastal states the new front line against armed groups operating in the Sahel,” the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a German think tank, said in an April report.

Countries in the region have increased security in vulnerable areas, including Ghana, which has so far escaped attacks.

But whether that will work is the big question.

Propping up border security will be “ineffective, (exactly) like it was in the Sahel,” the Moroccan Policy Center for the New South think tank warned this month.

Jihadist groups in the Sahel are “not traditional armies,” it said. “They spread ideas and exploit the complaints of the target groups.”

Jeannine Ella Abatan of the Pan-African Institute for Security Studies in Senegal called the recent attacks “the tip of the iceberg”.

“Since 2019, studies on the Sahel show that extremist groups were already linked to coastal states, either for logistical or operational support, but also for funding,” she told AFP.

Militants do not occupy territory in the coastal countries, but instead infiltrate northern regions where they launch sophisticated attacks, Abatan said.

Togo first experienced a jihadist attack in May 2021. Benin’s first known deadly attack occurred last December when two soldiers were killed near the border with Burkina Faso. Four members of the security forces died in Ivory Coast in 2021, down from 14 in 2020.

Such attacks, Abatan said, are only possible thanks to good intelligence-gathering skills and the “complicity” of locals.

Increased recruitment among border populations is a major threat, she said.

“The difficult living conditions can easily lead desperate people to move to terrorist camps,” a Beninese police officer in the crisis-ridden region told AFP.

Last week, a widely shared propaganda video featuring two jihadists speaking Bariba, the national language of northern Benin, called on people to join them and threatened those collaborating with the state.

– investment –

“The state urgently needs to respond to the needs of these people – to make them feel protected by the presence of security forces rather than having them seek shelter with these groups,” Abatan said.

Amnesty International has warned of alleged human rights abuses and arbitrary arrests by security forces in Benin and Togo.

Coastal countries seem to have accepted the argument that poverty and other sources of resentment create potential recruitment potential.

In Benin, the government has launched development projects, built schools and hospitals in some underdeveloped areas, and millions of dollars have been invested in Ivory Coast.

But much more needs to be done, says the Moroccan think tank, which also expressly warns against the militarization of the border areas.

“Without an immediate and dramatic change in approach,” she warned, residents of these border areas would “collaborate with extremists to try to keep themselves alive as best they can.”

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#Jihadists #spread #Sahel #West #African #coast

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