The following is candid commentary regarding the state of instability in both the Sahel and central regions of the current counter-terrorism battleground: Africa. None of the information or analysis below is drawn from classified information (strictly open source), and serves only as it is described: a commentary on regional security trends.
There are two overarching trends in regional security that are emerging from recent instability in central Africa and the Sahel, namely Nigeria, the Central African Republic (CAR), Cameroon, and portions of east Africa, to include: Somalia, Kenya, and Uganda. One is the influx of radical Islam to typically Christian or moderate Islam-dominated regions of central Africa, and the second is the increasingly apparent ability of transnational Islamist militant groups to freely transit the porous borders of whichever countries they see fit. While these two trends may or may not correlate with each other or other nefarious activity on the African continent, they pose a definite challenge to any security forces or nations attempting to assist in counter-terrorism or stabilization efforts.
The current issues at the foreground of international interest in Africa surround the CAR and the instability that has racked the country since March of 2012, when an alliance of heavily Muslim-dominated rebel groups called Seleka marched on the capital city of Bangui and removed President Francois Bozize from power. Nothing new by Africa’s standards, this alliance group is still in control of the city, and the country has slowly descended into sectarian violence, civil war, and general disorder. Pro- and anti-government militias battle each other while vying for control and simultaneously fighting the Muslim and Christian militias, with a slew of human rights violations and instability left in the aftermath. France recently announced its intention to deploy additional troops to the country in an effort to assist a new African Union-led stabilization effort that was just approved by the UN Security Council (the CAR is a source of vast natural minerals and resources that France wishes to protect).
Regardless of the internal results of France’s announcement to assist the African Union stabilization effort in the CAR, the second- and third-order effects of the CAR’s instability are also spilling over into neighboring countries, with nations such as Cameroon and Chad absorbing the majority of the impact. Cameroon is already struggling to maintain control and establish security in the western portion of its borders due to the presence of transnational Islamist fighters that align themselves with Boko Haram (if not directly, then AQ by proxy as well), just recently designated as a Foreign Terrorist Organization by the Department of State last month.
But if that weren’t enough, they now have announced their intention to deploy troops to their eastern border in an attempt to contain any rebel efforts to enter Cameroon. The presence and ability of transnational Islamist fighters in the central African region are exacting demanding resources from security forces, who will no doubt need to rely on external assistance from third parties in an effort to contain the instability if they wish to gain some semblance of authority or effectiveness.
To the west of Cameroon’s border is Nigeria, the most populous nation in Africa, and also the source of additional regional instability in the Sahel. Since May of this year, three Nigerian states have been in a state of emergency due to Nigeria’s ongoing efforts to eliminate or at least curtail the presence of FTO Boko Haram and its splinter group, Ansaru. Nigeria has been engaged in a losing battle for security and control over the northern states of Borno, Yobe, and Adamawa, and has pleaded for US assistance to help eliminate the radical Islamist movement.
Boko Haram has consistently demonstrated its ability to completely disregard any Nigerian efforts to stabilize the northern region of Nigeria, most recently assaulting a Nigerian air force base with a several hundred-strong force in a coordinated attack earlier this week. In response, the US finally announced its intent to commit additional resources that would assist in protecting Nigeria’s vast natural resources, western interests (namely oil), as well as curtail the instability and violence in the northern states.
Throughout the events taking place across the Sahel and central Africa (even eastern Africa, i.e. Somalia, Kenya) the common denominator is the presence and aggressive nature of radical Islamist militant groups. Due to the typically inherent inability of African nations to maintain accountability over their often porous borders (through varying historical events often outside their control), a robust freedom of movement for these groups has been established and exploited, most often to the militant group’s benefit. Boko Haram and Ansaru in Nigeria and Cameroon, Seleka and other Islamist militant groups in the CAR and Cameroon, al Shabaab in Somalia and Kenya, and even the Lord’s Resistance Army (not Muslim) in Uganda, the CAR, and the DROC are a few examples of such groups.
This robust freedom of movement has impeded any security forces’ ability to interdict and ultimately defeat these organizations’ abilities to conduct nefarious activity in the region. As a result, greater regional instability has slowly swallowed an overwhelming number of nations in Africa on one or more fronts.
With the uninhibited freedom of movement offered to radical Islamist groups across the Sahel and central Africa, an influx of radical thoughts and influence are also being introduced to unwitting groups of Christians, moderate Muslims, and other groups of individuals in affected regions. Reports of increased attacks on Christian families in Nigeria, massacres in the CAR, and others are indicative of this influx of radical influence.
This third-order effect is an intangible yet dangerous factor that must be taken into account when analyzing the ability of transnational groups to affect national counter-terrorism and stabilization strategies in the realm of regional security. Especially in a long-term regional security strategy, the ability to assess and affect, if necessary, the effects of radical Islam to various people is a critical factor for a successful strategy. Based on assessments from open source reporting tracking regional security in the Sahel and central Africa thus far, it would appear that the introduction of radical Islamism to various hotspots has not contributed to stability or activity conducive of a secure environment. This is an issue that will no doubt greatly affect any future regional security efforts.
It is expected that the US and other western actors would eventually dedicate resources to the uphill battle of establishing at least a semblance of regional security in the African nations mentioned above (due to their vast natural resources and ‘western interests’ there); what is not known is how the US and other power brokers intend to best dedicate their resources to this fight.
As incidents in Libya, Egypt, or even Mali have demonstrated, a limited effort to establish security or implement a short-term objective may be successful, but will ultimately result in a long-term end state that will far diminish any successes made previously. That is to say, the US and other actors must ultimately decide the manner in which resources can be effectively implemented to augment regional security in the Sahel and central Africa for the long-term.
Up until this point, the US has relied primarily on groups of special operations forces in various countries to augment, advise, and shape the operational environment affecting various regional ‘allies’, such as the CAR or DROC. The US has also made extensive use of drone operations, with a presence in Niger, Kenya, Uganda, and others.