Ruta de navegación
15 June, 2021
essay / Paula Mora Brito [English version].
Terrorism in the Sahel is a neglected reality that affects millions of people. Not surprisingly, the region is one of the most afflicted by it internship. Its complex geographical features make it difficult to control borders (especially those of the Sahara desert), and the lack of cultural and religious homogeneity, coupled with continuing economic and social challenges, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, make the region a fragile and convenient scenario for terrorist groups. In addition, Western countries (mainly France) are present in the area, provoking a certain rejection of their intervention in the eyes of the Sahelian population. Although data is scarce on this issue, which makes it difficult to study, this article will attempt to broaden the concepts and knowledge of terrorism in the Sahel, extending its geographical scope to show the daily life of its inhabitants over the last few years. The focus of the analysis will be on Western intervention in the fight against terrorism.
The terrorist phenomenon
Terrorism is a controversial concept, as it is subject to individual interpretation: while some condemn a group for the use of indiscriminate violence under a political/social/economic goal , others consider its members to be heroes of freedom. Only its purpose defines this activity: to coerce and intimidate the general intention on an issue. It takes different forms: by geographical scope (regional, national or international) or by its goal (ethno-nationalist, political and/or economic ideology, religious or specific issues). This is why each has different characteristics.
Religious terrorism, as Charles Townshend highlighted in his book Terrorism: A Very Short Introduction, has its own unique characteristics. Quoting Hoffman, he explains that goal transcends politics because it is seen as a theological demand. It is a bilateral relationship between fanatics and God, in which there is no possibility of dialogue or understanding, only the establishment of the demand. This conception leads to international terrorism, even if it starts at the regional or national level, as the group of "enemies" is broader. Messianism is the driving force behind this activity, and martyrdom its most potent weapon. The death that comes from fighting is presented as a sacred act and reflects the certainty of the members of these groups to their ideology.
The West finds it difficult to address these threats because it understands the world in a secular way. However, in the states in which these groups develop, religion represents nationhood, values and lifestyle: the individual is religion and vice versa. As Edward Said said: "The entrenched West is blind to nuance and change in the Islamic world". Indeed, Islamic religious terrorism emerges as a response to colonialism and the internship of soft power in Arab and Islamic cultures, which has been reinforced through the current of Islamic fundamentalism.
Terrorism in the Sahel
The Sahel ("edge, coast" in Arabic) is an ecoregion that transitions between the north and south of the African continent, as well as from west to east, with a total area of 3,053,200 km², constituting a belt of 5,000 km. It is made up of Senegal, Mauritania, Mali, Algeria, Burkina-Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Chad, Sudan, Eritrea and Ethiopia. It is a privileged area, as the desert is understood as a pathway to speech.
The area has 150 million inhabitants, 64% of whom are under 25 years old and mostly Sunni Islamic. In 2018, the last year there is data on these countries, the annual mortality rate per 1,000 people was 8.05, a very high rate compared to Spain's 2.59 in 2019. The adult literacy rate (15+), for which there is only data for seven of the ten countries, is 56.06 %. In reality, it is very unequal: while Algeria has 81.40%, Niger or Mali have 35%. The poverty incidence rate based on the national poverty line is 41.15% (only four countries have data from 2018). Life expectancy is 63 years.
The territory faces an economic, political and social crisis. The Sahel is one of the poorest regions in the world, with northern Nigeria as one of the territories with the largest number of extremely poor people in the world. The status worsened this year with a historic drop in the price of raw materials (more than 20%), which account for 89% of its exports. The environmental crisis is hampering the economic development .
Climate change has caused temperatures to rise 1.5 times faster than the global average rate, which has multiplied droughts (from one every ten years to one every two). Political instability in some countries, such as the 2012 coup d'état in Mali, is hampering their economic development development .
In this context, insecurity has increased since the 2004 attacks in Borno, a Nigerian state bordering Cameroon and Chad, by the Islamic terrorist group Boko Haram group . Terrorist activity has spread through the leadership of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), present in northern Mali, eastern Mauritania, Niger and western Chad. This has led to a demographic crisis, with 4.2 million people displaced and more than a million unable to find homes work. The UN programme development estimates that between now and 2050, more than 85 million Sahelians will be forced to migrate.
Most attacks take place on the tri-border areas of Mali, Burkina-Faso and Niger; and Niger, Nigeria and Chad. Since the Treaty of Berlin in 1885, African borders have been a serious problem because they were a European imposition that did not respect the tribal and ethnic reality of many regions, forcing and creating a nation that its inhabitants do not feel part of. This reality was reflected in the case of Mali, showing the pre-existing fragility of the region.
AQIM has divided the Sahel into katibas (branches): the Yahia Abou Ammar Abid Hammadu, which is established between southern Algeria and Tunisia and northern Niger; and Tarik Ben Ziyad, active in Mauritania, southern Algeria and northern Mali. The former is known to be more "terrorist", while the latter is more "criminal". This is due to the greater Degree cruelty employee by the Hammadu, as they follow the takfirism (war against "infidel" Muslims) of Zarqawi (ISIS).
They take over territories through negotiations, where they establish a market for illegal trafficking. Once they have acquired a area, they set up their settlements, training camps and prepare their next attacks. Another means of financing is kidnapping. It is a way to subjugate, humiliate and extract revenue from the West. The need for money, unlike in a criminal organisation, is not for the enrichment staff of the components, but to continue financing the activity: buying loyalties, weapons, etc. There is no recruitment data development , no conditions, no age, class or gender targeting.
The geographical and socio-political characteristics of the ecoregion have forced AQIM to develop its capacity to adapt, such as the subdivision of group (Boko Haram), which sample no longer needs a fixed physical base as in the 1990s (AQ in Afghanistan). In addition, there has been a change in strategy, as these groups are increasing their attacks on international organisations or government infrastructure by 250%, and decreasing attacks on civilians. This may be a new way of attracting locals as they promote themselves as protectors against state abuse.
In 2019 there was an average of 69.5 attacks per month in the Sahel and Maghreb, and 438 deaths were recorded last March. In 2020, activity has decreased due to COVID-19. Terrorism brings political and social insecurity, as well as economic insecurity, as investors are not attracted to do business in an unstable area, leading to continued precariousness. This causes and/or maintains the underdevelopment of a state, leading to a large influx of migration. A vicious circle of underdevelopment and poverty then ensues.
For Spain, the most recent and shocking event took place on 28 April 2021, when journalists David Beriain and Roberto Fraile were murdered in Burkina-Faso by the Jama'a Nusrat ul-Islam wa al-Muslimin, group de Apoyo al Islam y a los Musulmanes en español; a terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda.
The recent sudden death of Chadian President Idris Déby Itno on 19 April 2021 at the hands of the Fighters of the Front for Change and Concord in Chad (FACT) has further increased instability in the region. The president of the last three decades was fighting against this rebel group , created in 2016 in Libya, which sought to oust Déby and the dynastic regime from Chad. Since this event, massive protests have covered the streets of Chad, calling for a democratic transition in the country, to which the army has responded by killing some of the protesters. This uprising is due to what Chadians see as a repetition of their history and a violation of the nation's constitution. The Chadian army had announced the training of an 18-month transitional committee under the leadership of Mahamat Idriss Déby, the son of the former president. The problem is that his father, in 1999, created the same political body and promised the same. However, his promises were not kept. The transitional military committee suspended the constitution, which states at degree scroll Fifteenth that the transnational president must be the president of the National Assembly.
Chad's status is core topic in the fight against terrorism in the Sahel. The country lies between the Sahel and the Horn of Africa. The withdrawal or weakening of troops on the country's borders poses a great risk not only to Chad, but also to its neighbours. Countries bordering Chad will be exposed to violent attacks by terrorist groups, as Chad has the largest combined force in the G5 Sahel. Chad is the stabiliser of the region. To the east, it prevents Sudanese political instability from spilling over the borders. To the south, Chad has been the new home to more than 500,000 refugees from the Central African Republic and its massive migration crisis. To the west, it mainly counters Boko Haram, which is now a major player in Niger and Nigeria. To the north, it counters Libyan rebel groups. It is important to understand that although Libya is not part of the Sahel, its instability resonates strongly in the region, as the country is the new hub for terrorist groups in the Sahel, as the death of the former president seems to demonstrate. The country has become the launching pad for Africa's terrorist groups seeking to impose their will across the continent. What happens in Chad remains to be seen, as it will completely change the current Sahelian paradigm.
The West's fight against terrorism
There are institutional initiatives to address these regional issues jointly, such as the group G5 Sahel, composed of Mauritania, Mali, Niger, Burkina Faso and Chad, with the support of the African Union, the European Union, the United Nations and the World Bank, among others.
There is also financial aid international support to the region, mainly from France and the European Union. Since 2013, at the request of the Malian government, the French government launched Operation 'Serval' with the goal aim of expelling terrorist groups in northern Mali and other Sahel nations. It was followed a year later by Operation Barkhan, which focuses on attendance to the G5 Sahel member states, seeking to provide the resources and training necessary for these countries to manage their own security independently. Spain, Germany, Estonia and the UK also participate in this Operation. Last year, 2020, Task Force "Takuba", composed of French and Estonian special forces, was launched in the Sahara-Sahel belt. To date, France has deployed 5,100 military personnel, trained more than 7,000 G5 Sahel soldiers, deployed 750 training or combat support activities and has 75 cooperation officers in the region.
France has also been at the forefront of international intervention in the Sahel. In 2012, at the UN Security committee it promoted Resolution 2085 to underline the need for international attendance intervention in the region. In 2017, France was the precursor of the mission statement United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation Mission in Mali (MINUSMA), created under Resolution 2391 to provide attendance to the Malian government in the stabilisation of its country. It has more than 15,000 civilian and military personnel providing logistical and operational support.
The EU has also been involved through three main missions in the Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) framework : mission statement of training of the European Union (EUTM) Mali, EUCAP Sahel Mali and EUCAP Sahel Niger. The first was created in 2013 to train and advise the Malian armed forces. It also cooperates with the G5 Sahel member states to improve border control. The other two are civilian missions whose goal is to train the police, gendarmerie and national guard, as well as to advise on security reforms at government. EUCAP Sahel Niger was created in 2012 and is still in force. As for EUCAP Sahel Mali, it was created in 2014 and has been extended until 2023. In addition, France and the European Union also contribute financially to the region. Last year, the EU contributed €189.4 million to the region. France contributed around €3.97 billion during 2019-2020.
However, the uncertainty over Déby's death has reshaped local perceptions of Western, mainly French, intervention. The protests that have taken place in Chad in recent weeks have also led to an indictment of France for backing the military committee against the will of the people. Together with the African Union and the European Union, Macron declared at Déby's funeral that "France will never be able to make anyone question (...) and threaten, today or tomorrow, the stability and integrity of Chad", following Mahamat's promises to "remain faithful to his father's report". These statements were understood by Chadians to mean that Mahamat will follow his father's style of leadership and that France does not care about the oppression the people have suffered for decades. It is at this point that France risks only caring about the stability that Chad brought to the region, especially in its geopolitical interests regarding Libya and West Africa in particular. Perhaps this is why Macron felt the need to clarify his words a week later: "I will be very clear: I supported the stability and integrity of Chad when I was in N'Djamena. I am in favour of a peaceful, democratic and inclusive transition, I am not in favour of a succession," he said. However, Sahelians are getting tired of being the puppets of Western games, as demonstrated this year in Mali by the protests of the inhabitants against the French military presence in the country. The West must show its real commitment to promoting human rights by pushing for a democratic transition while maintaining its fight against terrorism.
In conclusion, Islamist religious terrorism has been on the rise in recent years as a counterpoint to US power in the Cold War. The Sahel is one of the predominant theatres of these activities, as it is an area with pre-existing political-economic instability that terrorists have taken advantage of. Terrorism is changing its modus operandi, showing its adaptability in terms of geography, methods of operation and resource acquisition. France has shown itself to be the leader of the Western initiative in the region and has made progress in the region. However, the West, especially European countries, must begin to pay more attention to the causes of the region's problems by gathering data and understanding the realities of the region. Only then will they be able to address these problems effectively, assisting existing regional institutions, looking for long-term solutions deadline that satisfy the population.
Panamanian authorities recorded the transit of 2,100 people of "interest" to Washington in 2018.
Of the 8,445 illegal migrants located in Darien (an increase of 20% in two years), 91% were from Asia and Africa, with goal mostly from reaching the US.
The US Southern Command deployed helicopters in January and February 2019 to improve surveillance capabilities in the dense jungle area.
Washington's awareness of the presence of AIS in the Central American migrant caravans last autumn prompts it to focus on the Darien Gap.
report SRA 2019 / Alex Puigrefagut[PDF version].
One of the best-known icons on the American continent is the Pan-American Highway: network of roads that runs from Argentina to the United States and even goes as far as Alaska. Between one end and the other, there is only one point where you have to get out of your car: 130 kilometres of dense vegetation between Panama and Colombia, which is truly impassable, even difficult to cross on foot. It is the Darién jungle, which is known as the Darién Gap.
Precisely because it blocks land transit between South America and Central America, it has traditionally been a area with little surveillance of migratory flows. This lack of monitoring, however, has led in recent years to a call effect of illegal immigration, mainly from Asia and Africa, which is of concern to the United States. Many of these immigrants are classified by Washington as Special Interest Aliens (SIAs), as they come from countries that, according to the US, show a tendency to promote, produce or protect criminal organisations, mostly terrorist organisations. If they emerge in Panama, they can easily use Central American migratory routes to the US, as has been denounced in the recent crisis of the caravans that departed from Honduras.
Panama' s National Migration Service recorded the passage through Darién of 8,445 illegal immigrants in 2018 (with December still to be counted), of which 5,400 were from Asia and 2,287 from Africa, which together accounted for 91 per cent of the entire contingent. This is an increase of 20 per cent in two years. Of these, 2,123 were nationals from countries the US sees as a potential terrorist threat: most were from Bangladesh (1,440), but also from Eritrea (418), Pakistan (151), Yemen (34), Somalia (32), Afghanistan (10), Iraq (10), Mauritania (10), Syria (7) and Egypt (2). At the end of 2017, the Panamanian National Border Service detained 26 Yemeni nationals with suspected links to terrorist groups.
This migration flow of people labelled as SIAs by Washington was already alerted in 2016 by the US Homeland Securitydepartment , which sent a memo to US border authorities to be vigilant.
With a focus on Darién, in June 2018 the US and Panama agreed to establish a Joint Migration Task Force (JMTF), goal to ensure more effective and comprehensive coordination to address illegal and uncontrolled immigration in the region. Security authorities from both administrations prioritised action against drug trafficking and other types of organised crime that could pose a threat to the security of both Panama and the US, as well as the region as a whole. In January and February 2019, the US Southern Command used helicopters for transports to improve surveillance facilities in Darién.
USA and Colombia
The main purpose of the JMTF created between the two States is that there can be exchange of information and resources to establish strategic border points and thus combat all subject of organised crime on the southern border of Panama, such as drug trafficking, arms trafficking, human trafficking and above all for the comprehensive monitoring of the possible penetration of illegal migrants considered CIS that may be effectively related to international terrorist organisations. In addition, for the proper functioning of the JMTF, the two governments agreed to meet bilaterally twice a year to effectively supervise and coordinate the border security groups.
Already in 2016, the governments of Panama and Colombia implemented further measures in the Binational Border Security Commission (COMBIFRON) to strengthen the fight against drug trafficking and organised crime, as well as illegal migration. These measures included the creation of two shared surveillance points between the two navies in order to control migratory flows along the border of both countries, especially in the Darién region. The area had historically been a place of influence for Colombian cartels and a rearguard for guerrilla forces, so the peace process with the FARC was an opportunity to seek greater state control.
The main problem in the Darién challenge in recent decades, according to some observers, was the passivity shown by Colombia, which gradually decreased patrolling and land control of its part of the border, leaving Panama with limited resources in the face of criminal groups, which led to a considerable increase in the illegal trafficking of drugs, arms and people along the border. This Colombian passivity was mainly due to the fact that the transit of illegal migrants did not create migratory pressure on Colombia, as the flows were towards the northern part of the continent. Although today both countries pay attention to the Darién, control of the area is still deficient, partly because maritime security is prioritised over land security, especially in the case of Colombia.
Central American caravans
The illegal passage through the Darién of people Washington considers "of interest" because they come from countries that may foment terrorism is part of international routes to the southern border of the United States. Ample evidence sample that the Darién Gap has become a strategic point for regional and US security.
The presence of individuals labelled as SIAs was at the centre of the discussion on the various migrant caravans that in autumn 2018 departed from Central America - emerging in Honduras and increasing in size as they passed through El Salvador and Guatemala - and headed for the US-Mexico border. According to the US think-tank Center for a Secure and Free Society (SFS), these caravans involved individuals from outside Central America, from the Middle East, Asia and Africa, some of whom entered the label of SIA. According to agreement with SFS, these individuals had a privileged attention in the development of the convoys, which could even indicate collusion between SIA networks and certain Central American migration channels. The same centre found that Guatemalan officials detected no less than 157 irregular migrants from other continents, at least 17 of whom were of "special interest" to the US because they came from countries such as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Eritrea.
It is difficult to establish how many people with profile SIAs actually transit through Central America to the US, as their identities are falsified in order to go unnoticed during their journey. On the other hand, the US president exaggerated the state of alarm over the large Central American caravans, because even if there were grounds for the alert, it should not be forgotten that the vast majority of Special Interest Aliens who enter the US and who are highly dangerous because of their direct connections to terrorism arrive by air and not by land. According to an explanatorystatement of the US Homeland Security department , average of ten people on the "terrorist watch list" are apprehended every day (3,700 in the last fiscal year), although few of them enter through the US-Mexico border.