The United States and its allies are losing the war against Islamic terrorism in the Sahel region of Africa, a top American general on the continent cautioned Thursday.
In an interview with Voice of America (VOA), U.S. Maj. Gen. Marcus Hicks, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, also urged President Donald Trump’s administration not to reduce the American military presence in Africa any further after the Pentagon pulled out up to 200 forces from West Africa, home to Boko Haram and the Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL).
Although Gen. Hicks said he “would not recommend more drones or more advisers” at this time, he added that he would not advise reducing the American military footprint in the region neither.
“We’re trying to avoid as much as possible the kinetic activity that could eventually disenfranchise the people from the legitimate government,” the top general noted.
As part of the Trump administration’s decision to prioritize the fight against strategic competitors Russia and China, the Pentagon ordered a ten percent American troop reduction in Africa over the next few years.
There are an estimated 6,000 American troops and 1,000 Pentagon civilians or contractors deployed across Africa, mainly training and conducting exercises with local forces.
“I would tell you at this time, we are not winning” in the Sahel region, Gen. Hicks told VOA Thursday.
Hicks, however, also told the New York Times (NYT), “The notion that we’re leaving the Sahel is simply not true. This is just a natural transition,” referring to the recent withdrawal of American troops from Africa.
The head of U.S. Africa Command’s (AFRICOM) special operations wing spoke to news outlets on the sidelines of Flintlock, a major American-led military drill in the region that involves about 2,000 commandoes from more than 30 African and Western countries.
Burkina Faso — which is plagued by an insurgency from several al-Qaeda affiliates — hosted the exercise this year.
“What we fight against, what we see every day is like a toxin,” Lt. Col. Coulibaly Kanou from Burkina Faso told VOA. “I do not know what the terrorists want from us.”
“The threat is growing,” U.S. Ambassador to Burkina Burkina Faso Andrew Young told VOA. “We’re in a tough fight, and the fight is getting harder.”
Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), considered the international terrorist organization’s “wealthiest” wing, likely generates tens of millions of dollars annually, primarily through drug trafficking linked to violent Latin American cartels, the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) think tank revealed in December 2017.
In response to the jihadi threat, the U.S. embassy in Burkina Faso is expected to boost the amount of resources applied to the deteriorating security conditions in the African country and efforts devoted to economic development.
“We have asked for resources, and the resources have been provided to us to accomplish the mission,” Amb. Young declared.
According to the most recent Global Terrorism Index (GTI), compiled by the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP), terrorism is on the rise in Africa.
GTI revealed that Africa in 2017 was home to half of the top ten countries with the highest number of terror-linked fatalities — Somalia, Egypt, Central African Republic, Mali, and Kenya.
Despite the rise in terrorism, the U.S. military already withdrew between 100 and 200 American troops from West Africa where thousands of jihadis from Boko Haram and its Islamic State (ISIS/ISIL) breakaway faction are wreaking havoc.
“U.S. military officials have not revealed where future troop cuts will hit,” VOA noted, adding, “Niger and Mali are fighting al-Qaida-linked militants, and Chad is combating a militant push from the expansion of Islamic State and Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria.”
NYT reported on Friday:
President Trump has ordered most American troops to withdraw from Syria. He wants to bring home thousands more from Afghanistan. Now hundreds of United States commandos and other forces are leaving West Africa — despite an onslaught of attacks from an increasingly deadly matrix of Islamist fighters.
The shift has unnerved African commanders in Burkina Faso and neighboring nations in the Sahel, a vast sub-Saharan scrubland increasingly racked by bombings, massacres, kidnappings and attacks on hotels frequented by Westerners.
In releasing U.S. President Donald Trump’s Africa strategy in December 2018, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton acknowledged the jihadi threat on the continent and warned that Russian and Chinese activities threaten American interests.
“France, the former colonial power in West Africa, maintains 4,500 troops in the region to help battle insurgents in Niger, Chad, and Mali, where it routed Al Qaeda’s affiliate from the north in 2013,” the Times acknowledged.
As the United States and its partners dial down operations against the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq and contemplate a withdrawal from Afghanistan, the focus of global jihadist activity will shift to Africa,” Stratfor, a private intelligence firm, predicted on Thursday.