Developments in the Sahel are cause for real alarm. Insecurity in northern and central Mali, the epicenter of much of the region's al Qaeda-related violence, continues to grow, while Islamist violence has spread from there and from northern Nigeria to Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, and Niger.
Just last month, gunmen killed 18 in a restaurant in Burkina Faso's capital, and last week the U.S. announced it was pulling Peace Corps volunteers out of the country. The upswing in terrorist attacks suggests that the region's main al Qaeda-affiliated terrorist groups, four of which unified in March under the name Group to Support Islam and Muslims (GSIM), are thriving. Similarly, a surge of attacks in and around northern Nigeria leave no doubt that the Nigerian government's claims late last year of its victory over Boko Haram were optimistic at best.
The rise in violence associated with the al Qaeda groups, it should be recalled, is taking place despite the presence in the region of an active French counterterrorism force, known as Operation Barkhane, and the United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali (known by the French acronym, MINUSMA). Both, moreover, came in the wake of the 2013 French intervention in Mali, known as Operation Serval, which wrested control of the northern part of that country from the Islamist groups that now are part of GSIM and presumably wrought significant damage upon them....
The remainder of this commentary is available on thecipherbrief.com.
Michael Shurkin is a senior political scientist at the nonprofit, nonpartisan RAND Corporation. He previously worked in the Intelligence Community, where he served as a political analyst with a focus on West Africa and Afghanistan.
This commentary originally appeared on The Cipher Brief on September 13, 2017. Commentary gives RAND researchers a platform to convey insights based on their professional expertise and often on their peer-reviewed research and analysis.