Niamey, Niger — On October 4th the United States woke up to four dead U.S. Special Forces soldiers in a deadly ambush perpetrated by a new terrorist threat known as The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara in the West African country of Niger. Many Americans had no idea where the country of Niger was, let alone had any clue that elite Green Berets of the U.S. Army 3rd Special Forces Group were operating there.
The fact is that the Green Berets have been fighting and dying alongside their African counterparts against the cancerous spread of radical Islamic terrorism decades before the United States declared a global war on terrorism.
The Green Berets in Africa fall under a new mission developed in 2013 known as the Joint Special Operations Task Force – Juniper Shield (JSOTF-JS), or simply Operation Juniper Shield. This mission is commanded by the Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) under the U.S. Global War on Terror banner Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara (OEF-TS).
Operation Juniper Shield saw an increase of funding and troop support in 2014 from the Obama administration shortly after closing U.S. combat operations in Afghanistan. That funding needed a new place to go and the United States along with the United Nations Security Council were all too happy to push money, equipment and U.S. Special Forces into Africa to train/advise/assist their beleaguered African Union allies in their uphill battle with terrorism.
One of the most strategic and best equipped African Union allies in the U.S. Special Forces African counter insurgency plans was none other than the country of Chad; that is until the Trump administration bafflingly placed them on a indefinite travel ban.
U.S. Special Operations and Chad have enjoyed an intimate working relationship for years, Green Berets have lived with and trained the Chadian Special Forces into a well-disciplined force of warfighters since the 1960’s. Chad has lead the fight in Africa’s counter-terrorism efforts by supplying the bulk of its troops in thwarting many terror groups, namely Boko Haram, from gaining any kind of substantial footprint in the West African region.
In 2014 Chad, along with Niger, joined with a African Union Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) and with South African advisors from Eben Barlow’s private security company, (STTEP International) went on the offensive against Abubakr Shekau and his Islamic State-linked terror group Boko Haram stronghold in the Lake Chad basin along the northern Nigeria and southern Niger borders. The mission was a success as Chadian forces spearheaded the destruction of Boko Haram’s main base which sent them scrambling for their lives and ending up in the town of Diffa across the border in southern Niger.
Shortly after setting up camps near Diffa and throughout southern Niger, Boko Haram began to reconsolidate and recruit to once again fill its ranks. Niger, whose military was already spread thin, could do nothing but observe and report as Boko Haram began running cross border attacks and raids into Chad and Borno State; the group’s old stronghold in northern Nigeria.
Chad who was now a key member of the U.S. and United Nations Security Council (UNSC) backed African Union Group of Five Sahel joint counter-terrorism task force. Sent in Chadian troops to hunt and destroy Boko Haram and occupy the Nigerien border city of Diffa along with key points along the tri-border regions of Niger, Nigeria, and Chad.
Chad had put a huge damper on Boko Haram’s terrorist plots and effectively contained the terror group within the Lake Chad basin. That is until the Trump administration added them to the U.S. travel ban list. Chad’s answer to the Trump administration’s decision to add them to its travel ban by pulling all of its troops from Niger leaving a gaping maw for terror groups like Boko Haram to operate with impunity.
While all this was going on in the east, a new terrorist group led by an angry up-and-coming jihadist known as Abu Walid Al-Sahraoui was forming in the southern border region of Mali and Niger. Sahraoui, disillusioned with the al-Qaeda in the Maghreb linked group al-Mourabitoun and its apparent distaste with ultra-violence, took his brigade 0f mainly nomadic tribesmen loyal to him, pledged fealty to Baghdadi, and hoisted the black banner of the Islamic State forming the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (ISGS).
The ISGS began to rapidly expand into Mali, Burkina Faso, and southwestern Niger. And just like Boko Haram in the east also began a “heart and minds” recruiting campaign. Boko Haram and the ISGS share the same apocalyptic Salafist ideology of the Islamic State, both fly the black banner of the Caliphate which bonds the two groups. However, what makes these two groups more dangerous than this bond is who comprises the bulk of these groups.
Both Boko Haram and ISGS ranks are a majority of a nomadic tribesmen known as the Fulani.
The Fulani nomads can be found all throughout the Lake Chad region as well as southwestern Niger, Mali, and Burkina Faso. These nomads also hold extreme resentment against these same countries governments and militaries due to continual persecution and violent attacks and human rights abuses heaped upon the nomad tribe itself. Boko Haram and ISGS play to this anger and resentment and target the Fulani exclusively for recruitment into the their jihad.
The region Tillaberi in southwest Niger where U.S. Special Forces were ambushed and killed earlier this month has a strong Fulani tribe presence which has been supporting the efforts of the ISGS and its expansion into Niger, Mali and Burkina Faso. Green Berets whom survived the ambush in the Nigerien village of Tongo Tongo reported that they suspected the village elders along with residents were delaying their departure from the key leadership meeting so elements of the ISGS could get in place to ambush the joint U.S.-Nigerien force just outside the village.
The ISGS is showing now signs of slowing its violence in the region either as the group attacked a convoy of Gendarmerie Nationale Nigérienne paramilitary police forces just 60 miles west of Tongo Tongo killing 12 officers before fleeing across the border and into Mali. Local residents in the city of Diffa in southeast Niger have already begun reporting an increase of cross-border raids by Boko Haram as well as its fighters walking around in the open and waving the black banners of ISIS within the city limits; a direct result of Chadian troops being recalled from this highly contested region.
There is nothing stopping these two Islamic State insurgency groups from linking up and creating a large unified terrorist front. The removal of Chadian troops along the eastern borders have opened up the flood gates of dangerous possibilities, both groups are comprised of mainly Fulani nomads and its subgroups which all but solidifies a dark union between the two jihadist groups.
The unification of these two groups will doom all in their path and most likely turn West Africa into an Islamic State hellscape not unlike Raqqa or Mosul. The death toll will sky-rocket and the Global War on Terror quagmire will only thicken for the elite men and women of the U.S. Special Operations. And yes, more American blood will be spilled onto the hot desert sands of the Sahara.
Feature image courtesy of: Associated Press