The area of operations in the campaign against IS/Daesh will be shifting to another theater and analysts have noticed snippets of where the shift will be moving towards.
During the most recent Ministerial level meeting of the Global Coalition against Daesh which took place in Washington in Mid-November, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the ongoing efforts to defeat IS/Daesh will be shifting to the Sahel. This means that West Africa will be in the crosshairs of some actors both good and bad.
Unlike what had taken place in Northern Iraq and in Northeastern Syria there is no sudden vacuum that arose with the rise of conflict and the removal of a Government Presence. The situation in the Sahel has been in a gradual decline for several years now. That being said there are several factors that the Coalition feels needs to be addressed or have taken place that influences events on the ground at this point in time.
Most of the issues in the region rise from the issues of weak governance. The countries that will be the major focus of any efforts that appear to be both Mali and Burkina Faso currently also provide an interest that could see any intervention. Both nations have Gold Mines that are in current operation. A recent attack against a convoy in Northern Burkina Faso may have provided a motivation for the announcement.
Another concern that needs to be addressed are the porous borders within the region. The militant groups have proven adept at using the terrain specifically using the trade routes that have been used for hundreds of years to move throughout the region. Improving border security sounds like an easy fix at first glance however the ability to adequately perform this function will be a challenge to the Sahel 5 countries and their supporters.
The one factor that is often overlooked in the regional context is the current situation in Libya. Much has been made of the offensive that has been launched by General Haftar of the Libyan National Army (LNA) against the ruling Government of National Accord (GNA) which currently holds power in Tripoli. During this offensive, the LNA has driven several Militias out of their previous bases and they have been forced to seek new sanctuaries. Some of these groups have found what they seek in both Mali and Burkina Faso.
What actions have the Global Coalition taken? France has for the most part taken the lead role in this effort. They organized Operation Barkhane after the collapse of Mali after a Coup and insurrection back in 2012. In recent weeks public opinion in Mali has taken a negative view of the French efforts to defeat the Militants. This is despite the French suffering 15 fatalities in a Helicopter accident in the Country just last month.
It is probable to see some increased US activity in the region. This will be a reversal of US policy which was announced a couple of years ago after 4 members of the Green Berets were killed in an ambush in the region. Last Month a new base came online which will provide additional support from US UAVs. Could there be an increased presence of US Special Forces or other troops on the horizon? Future events will tell that story.
Already several countries that border the Gulf of Guinea have been stating that IS/Daesh are already in their countries… Hopefully, the campaign doesn’t make it that far to the South.