The jihadists of the Sahel are gaining more and more ground | International

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French soldiers train Malian soldiers on December 7 at the Menaka base (Mali).THOMAS COEX (AFP)

The unstoppable advance of jihadism in the Sahel for a decade has not only caused thousands of deaths, three million displaced and a serious humanitarian crisis. It is also eroding the governments of the region and generating enormous political and social instability: the coups in Mali or the recent fall of the Government of Burkina Faso are a consequence of the security crisis that is also expressed in spontaneous demonstrations against The authorities. Taking advantage of these weaknesses, the radicals’ strategy is to gain more and more ground and advance towards the northern regions of the Gulf of Guinea countries such as the Ivory Coast, where the attacks are no longer a novelty, or from Benin and Togo, which have suffered. serious raids in the last month.

Sunday, November 14. At dawn, dozens of jihadists on motorcycles and trucks pickup They raid the Inata Gendarmerie post, in the remote north of Burkina Faso, and kill 53 policemen. Subsequent reports reveal that the officers were short of everything, including food. After weeks of constant attacks and half a thousand agents killed in six years, Inata is the last straw. Thousands of Burkina Faso demonstrated in the main cities to denounce the inaction of authorities overwhelmed by the terrorist threat and, amid rumors of exhaustion in the Armed Forces and even a coup, President Roch Marc Cristian Kaboré dismissed the entire Government in an attempt to save his own head.

The spread of jihadist activity threatens not only democracy, but the very existence of the state in Burkina Faso, warns Gilles Yabi, director of the Wathi analysis center. “It has already happened in Mali since 2012, where the degradation of security and the inability to respond opened the door to coups. This scenario must be avoided by all means in Burkina Faso ”, he assures.

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In March 2012, Malian soldiers enraged by the lack of weapons and ammunition to confront the radical insurrection that was beginning to break out in the north of the country rose up against then-President Amadou Toumani Touré. Eight years later, in August 2020, a group of colonels fed up with seeing their soldiers die in the north and center of the country jumped on the bandwagon of popular discontent to carry out a new coup that overthrew Ibrahim Boubacar Keita.

“The destabilization of the governments of the Sahel is a palpable consequence of the activity of the armed groups,” says Ornella Moderan, a researcher at the Institute for Security Studies (ISS). “In Burkina Faso we are witnessing a fight between the Group for the Support of Islam and Muslims (JNIM) and the Islamic State of the Greater Sahara (EIGS) to control part of the Burkinabe territory, which at the same time serves as a corridor to the coastal countries” . These two terrorist groups, supported by katibas Local (groups of combatants) are primarily responsible for the constant attacks and attacks throughout the region. The last one, last Thursday in northern Burkina Faso, killed 41 people.

“Terrorists take advantage of instability,” agrees researcher Bakary Sambe, director of the Timbuktu Institute. “Behind the incredible amount of attacks that Burkina Faso suffers there is a strategy of the jihadist groups to weaken the presence of the State to continue its expansion towards the countries of the Gulf of Guinea”, he adds. With much of Mali and Burkina Faso already out of state control, this progress is a reality. On November 9, a military post in Togo suffered a terrorist attack, the first in its history, and at the beginning of December two Beninese Army bases suffered the same fate. Skirmishes are common in northern Ivory Coast. In all cases, the attackers came from neighboring Burkina Faso.

“The countries of the Gulf of Guinea have had time to work on prevention and they have not done so because they are installed in the denial of the problem, as if it were a distant matter, or in an exclusively military approach instead of trying to combat the causes. deep. Sooner or later, as has already happened in central Mali or northern Burkina Faso with the Peul ethnic group, this approach will accentuate conflicts and community stigmatization, ”says Sambe, for whom the weakness of States not prepared to an asymmetric conflict like this “clearly benefits the jihadists to continue their advance.”

The spread of jihadism towards the Gulf of Guinea was one of the main concerns of the recent Forum on Peace and Security held in Dakar. Senegalese President Macky Sall, host of the meeting and the next president of the African Union in 2022, spoke of “metastasis”. Researchers agree that these countries are already a source of supply and financing for terrorist groups, but it goes much further. A recent ISS report emphasizes how artisanal gold mining, very difficult to control by States, already generates income for armed groups and warns of the existence of risks of jihadist contagion towards Senegal, on whose southern border with Mali more and more security-related incidents are being repeated.

In this context of the advance of jihadism, the partial withdrawal of French troops from Operation Barkhane, which will go from about 5,100 soldiers to 3,000 next summer and which has already ceded control of three military bases to the Malian Army, has led to concern to the Sahel countries. “This is a time of great change. Barkhane has been the axis on which all the anti-terrorist strategy in the region pivots and we are witnessing a resizing of this military force. It is a mystery to see how the national armies or the G5 of the Sahel adapt to this change ”, assures Moderan.

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The Russian controversy

The revelation of the existence of negotiations between the government of Mali, controlled by the military, and the private Russian company Wagner for the possible deployment of mercenaries in the fight against jihadism has generated a great international reaction. Last Thursday, 15 European countries, including Spain and France, and Canada condemned this deployment, ensuring that they were aware of the involvement of the Russian Government in providing material support for Wagner’s landing in Mali. French government sources informed the media that they had detected the setting up of a reception camp outside the airport in Bamako, the Malian capital, to host the mercenaries and that there had been a heavy turnover of Russian transport planes.

However, the Malian authorities denied last Friday through a statement that no private Russian company is deploying in their territory and assured that they are trainers. “At the same level as the European Training Mission (EUTM), Russian trainers are present in Mali in the framework of strengthening the operational capabilities of the National Defense and Security Forces,” says Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, Minister of Territorial Administration and Government spokesman, in said statement. At the same time, it asks its European partners to judge the Malian Executive by facts and not by rumors and demands that they provide “evidence from independent sources” of such deployment.

Last Tuesday, French President Emmanuel Macron asked Russian President Vladimir Putin for “clarification” regarding the situation in Mali during a conversation in which they addressed different issues. Macron had planned to travel to Bamako last week to visit the French troops deployed there and to meet with the Malian president, Colonel Assimi Goïta, in order to reduce tension between the two countries, but this trip was officially suspended due to the health crisis caused by the rebound in covid-19 cases.

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