Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) and al-Qaeda-linked jihadi groups that pose a threat to the United States are expanding and increasing their lethality in Africa, U.S. President Donald Trump’s National Security Advisor John Bolton warned on Thursday, echoing the latest Global Terrorism Index (GTI).
Bolton’s comments came in the wake of the near complete destruction of ISIS’s physical caliphate in Iraq and Syria.
The latest GTI, compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) and released last week, acknowledged that ISIS is shifting its resources away from its fallen territorial caliphate in Iraq and Syria and into its other branches in “North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, and Southeast Asia.”
During a speech at the Heritage Foundation announcing the release of the president’s Africa strategy, Bolton asserted that combating the “serious threat” to the United States posed by “radical Islamic terrorism” on the continent is a top priority for the Trump administration.
In recent years, ISIS, al-Qaida, and their affiliates operating in Africa have increased the lethality of their attacks, expanded into new areas, and repeatedly targeted U.S. citizens and interests.
In Mali, Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin or JNIM—which describes itself as an al-Qaida affiliate—is increasing in strength and has killed and wounded scores of peacekeepers, partner forces, and innocent civilians, in addition to kidnapping Westerners and threatening U.S. allies.
In Libya, the local ISIS-affiliate has found fertile ground to recruit new terrorists and plot attacks against the United States.
Libya once housed the largest ISIS stronghold outside of Iraq and Syria, where the terrorist group only controls one percent of the territory it once held, courtesy mainly of the U.S.-led coalition and local fighters.
The GTI revealed that while most of the world experienced a decrease of “27 percent to 18,814” deaths from terrorist attacks last year when compared to 2016, five African countries experienced some of the “largest increases in deaths from terrorism” during the same period.
“Half of the countries with the largest increases in terrorism are located in Africa, with rises also occurring in the Central African Republic, Mali, and Kenya,” the report noted.
The GTI identified the ten countries that experienced the largest increases in terror-linked deaths from 2016 to 2017 as Somalia, Egypt, Central African Republic, Myanmar, Mali, Kenya, Afghanistan, the Philippines, India, and the United Kingdom, respectively.
Africa is home to three of the world’s deadliest terrorist groups: ISIS, al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram, also noted the index, which treats affiliates like al-Shabaab and Boko Haram as separate groups from their parent organization.
GTI identified the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) and sub-Saharan Africa as two of the top three deadliest regions in the world for terror last year, with 33,126 and 9,342 fatalities, respectively.
According to the assessment, ISIS remained the most lethal terrorists in the world.
“The four terrorist groups responsible for the most deaths in 2017 were the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), the Taliban, Al-Shabaab, and Boko Haram. These four groups were responsible for 10,632 deaths from terrorism, representing 56.5 percent of total deaths in 2017,” the index noted.
Despite the threat posed by African jihadi groups, the Pentagon is expected to withdraw more than 700 American troops from Africa as part of the Trump administration’s decision to pivot away from the war on terror to focus on deterring strategic competitors like China and Russia.
Bolton acknowledged that “predatory practices” by China and Russia “interfere with U.S. military operations’ in Africa, adding that Trump’s strategy will address the threat.
The complete destruction of ISIS’s physical caliphate, which has been reduced to an ever-shrinking pocket of land near the Iraqi border in Syria, is imminent, said Brett McGurk, the special presidential envoy for the U.S.-led coalition against the terrorist group, on Tuesday.
Nevertheless, he conceded that ISIS “clandestine cells” will continue to pose a menace indefinitely.
He stressed that ISIS’s enduring defeat — the U.S.-led coalition’s primary goal — will be a “long-term” process.