Niger President Mohamed Bazoum stressed that his country is heading to win the war it is waging – with regional and Western support – against armed groups that it describes as terrorist, especially Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa. On the other hand, the frequency of bloody attacks in other neighboring countries in the Sahel region, such as Burkina Faso and Mali, and the possibility of their expansion across the border south towards neighboring countries, reveal that containing the threat of these groups is still far from being achieved.
During his visit to the city of Diffa on the border with Nigeria, Bazoum – who has held the presidency of Niger since 2021 – spoke about the good results achieved by his country’s forces in confronting armed groups, heralding an “imminent end” for the Boko Haram group, which continues to launch attacks in the Sahel region despite From the split that it was exposed to, as it split into an organization affiliated with Al-Qaeda and another affiliated with the Islamic State.
And last May, the President of Niger – in an interview with the French newspaper “La Croix” – called France and other European countries for greater involvement in the fight against armed groups in the region.
In the past few weeks, new bloody attacks have been recorded in Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria and Chad, despite successive military campaigns launched by the armies of the region, either alone or within the framework of the joint force formed by several countries in the region.
Currently, armed groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State are active in northern Mali, northern and eastern Burkina Faso, northeastern Nigeria, and southeastern Niger. They have also found a haven in Lake Chad, which is surrounded by Chad, Niger, Nigeria and Cameroon.
With the transfer of violence from Mali beginning after 2012, armed groups took control of parts of the territory, sometimes benefiting from political instability and the failure of governments to develop, especially in areas far from the centers, as is the case in northern and eastern Burkina Faso, and southeastern Niger, knowing that the two countries They are among the poorest countries.
Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State
Currently, the “Jama’a Nusrat al-Islam wa al-Muslimin”, which is linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in West Africa, in addition to Boko Haram, is one of the largest active groups in the Sahel region, and the bloody attacks that are recorded from time to time indicate that the danger of these groups has not decreased in general despite Some of them, especially Boko Haram in Nigeria, have withdrawn due to the blows they have received in the past years.
And last year, France announced that its forces had killed Abu Walid al-Sahrawi, the founder of the Islamic State in the Sahel region in 2015, who is accused of being behind the killing of Western hostages and soldiers in the region.
In the same year, the Islamic State in West Africa announced the death of the leader of the Boko Haram group, Abu Bakr Shekau, after he blew himself up during clashes between the two organizations in the Sambisa Forest in Borno State, northern Nigeria.
Although it suffered defeats at the hands of both ISIS and the army in Nigeria, the Boko Haram group still controls some villages and pockets in the countryside, and it has changed its tactics and resorted to suicide attacks.
In a recent report, United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that central Mali suffers from a high level of violence, stressing that the border triangle with Niger and Burkina Faso is witnessing a significant deterioration in the security situation.
For its part, the International Crisis Group says that the violence has moved to Burkina Faso from Mali, and that there are internal factors that fuel it, and adds that most of the violence in the north of Burkina is behind the Jamaat-e Nusrat al-Islam and Muslims.
And the cities of northern and eastern Burkina Faso, such as Djibo, Titau and Madjoire, became besieged by the jihadists, and this prompted the population to demonstrate against their abandonment of their fate, after the withdrawal of local authorities from some areas. A few days ago, the Burkina Faso army announced that it was giving the residents 14 days to evacuate two military areas in the north of the country that are considered a stronghold of armed groups.
And between March and June of this year, the joint forces – formed by Chad, Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and Benin – carried out a large-scale military operation in Lake Chad, which resulted in the killing of about 800 Boko Haram members, according to a statement of this force, which is based in Lake Chad. Driving in Diffa, Niger.
The American newspaper “The Washington Post” quotes analysts that there is a fine line between what it describes as “jihadist groups” and other armed groups in the Sahel, where the scene becomes more complex in light of the conflicts between tribal communities on the ground.
These analysts attribute the expansion of armed groups to several reasons, including weak institutions, and the population’s frustration with their governments’ neglect of them in their areas, which is a motive to join these groups.
In addition, the newspaper says, the nature of the desert region makes it difficult to control this phenomenon.
Attacks expand south
Fears are growing of the militants’ expansion in the south outside the border triangle between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso towards countries bordering the Gulf of Guinea.
Ivory Coast, Benin, Ghana and Togo were subjected to several attacks attributed to armed groups deployed in neighboring countries to the north.
And last Sunday, gunmen attacked a police station in the city of Dessari (northwest of Benin) on the border with Burkina Faso and killed two policemen, while a security source confirmed the killing of two attackers, describing the gunmen as terrorists.
And last May, the Benin government confirmed – in the first census of its kind – that the country had been subjected to 20 attacks, and the government had deployed military forces to protect the borders with Niger and Burkina Faso.
In Côte d’Ivoire, which has been subjected to sporadic attacks during the past two years, the government announced that it would spend 430 million dollars to avoid the occurrence of young people in the border areas under the influence of armed groups.
Fears are rising of the armed phenomenon from the Sahel region to the south, after the withdrawal of most of the French forces from Mali, despite the fact that French President Emmanuel Macron announced the formation of an international coalition to combat terrorism in the region to replace the “Barkhane” force.
In addition, military coups and deviation from the path of democracy would weaken the operations of resistance to armed groups in the Sahel region, according to analysts.
Huge human cost
The United Nations stated that the violence in Mali has killed thousands and displaced about 400,000 others since its outbreak in 2012, and among the dead were 175 members of the UN peacekeeping force MINUSMA, which was established in 2013 and currently includes 15,000.
Since 2015, the conflict in Burkina Faso has killed thousands and displaced nearly two million people.
According to an investigation by the German “Deutsche Welle” website, the military forces in Mali and Burkina Faso killed more civilians than the militants.
The website says that killings targeting civilians have increased since the military seized power in 2020.
Human Rights Watch accused the Malian forces and foreign militants (sources said they were from the Russian Wagner Company) of executing 300 civilians in the city of Mora, noting that they were arrested during a military operation targeting armed groups.
In Nigeria, the conflict between 2011 and 2018 killed 37,000 people, displaced 2.4 million, and put another 7 million on the brink of starvation, according to the United Nations.
Source : The island + foreign press + Websites