Analysts reported on 16 November that Nigerian-based militant group Boko Haram has significantly scaled back attacks in Cameroon in recent months, suggesting that a regional security force is gaining ground against the militants.
According to the International Crisis Group (ICG), the Islamist movement, which controlled an area in northeastern Nigeria last year and raided Cameroon and other neighbours, including Niger, in a bid to expand its “caliphate,” has since suffered a number of defeats. One of the report’s authors, Hans de Maria Heungoup, disclosed that “we’ve seen a dizzying downwards spiral in the number of attacks suicide bombings.” Two years ago, attacks were happening on an almost daily basis, however since September that number has fallen to between six and eight a month. The study indicated that “(Boko Haram) has suffered heavy losses and seen its conventional capacities reduced,” partly thanks to last year’ formation of a 10,000-strong regional force with troops from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria. According to the report, up to 1,000 fighters with heavy weaponry and armoured vehicles joined strikes in Cameroon’s Far North region in 2014 – 2015, however attacks have now focused on the northernmost tip of the region, where fighters have continued to control part of the fishing industry of Lake Chad.
The ICG also noted that recruitment in Cameroon has also faltered, warning however that forced enlistment remains a risk. Citing interviews with the locals, the study disclosed that up to 4,000 Cameroonians are though to have joined the group and some were given sign-on bonuses of up to US $2,000 and a motorbike, adding that those who proved their loyalty by killed their parents often enjoyed quick promotion. Analysts have disclosed that the faction around the Lake Chad Basin represents the stronger branch of the group, which is loyal to the so-called Islamic State (IS) group and which is led by Abu Musab al-Barnawi, while another faction, which is led by Abubakar Shekau, is based further south in Nigeria’s Sambisa forest.
A report released on 16 November indicated that deaths from terrorism in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) countries decreased last year by 650 percent despite a marked fall globally as Nigerian-based Boko Haram militants and the so-called Islamic State (IS) Group suffered military defeats at home but carried out more attacks abroad.
The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) has reported that worldwide, there were 29,376 deaths that were caused by terrorism in 2015. This figure represents a decline of 10 percent, adding that this is the first decrease in four years. GTI disclosed that his decline was due to action against IS in Iraq and Boko Haram in Nigeria, which cut the numbers killed there by a third. IS was the deadliest group in 2015, overtaking Boko Haram. Last year, IS carried out attacks in 252 cities that led to 6,141 deaths. The index however has noted that Boko Haram’s move into neighbouring countries – Cameroon, Chad and Niger – saw the number of fatalities in the se countries increase by 157 percent.
The report however notes that the groups have spread their actions to neighbouring states and regions, where they have caused a huge increase in fatalities amongst OECD members, most of which are wealthy countries, such as the United States and European countries. According to GTI, of the 34 OECD member countries, 21 had witnesses at least one attack with most deaths occurred in Turkey and France. Last year’s terror incidents included coordinated attacks carried out by IS gunmen and suicide bombers at the Bataclan music venue, a soccer stadium and several cafes in Paris in November, which killed 130 people. The index also noted that Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden and Turkey all suffered their worst death tolls from terrorism in a single year since 2000, adding that in total twenty-three countries registered their highest ever number of terrorism deaths. Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, which accounted for 72 percent of all deaths, were the top five ranked countries in the GTI. The United States ranked 36th, with France coming in 29th, Russia in 30th and the United Kingdom in 34th.
According to Steve Killelea, executive chairman at the Institute for Economics and Peace (IEP) think-tank, “while on the one hand the reduction in deaths is positive, the continued intensification of terrorism in some countries and its spread to new ones is a cause for serious concern and underscores the fluid nature of modern terrorist activity,” adding that “the attacks in the heartland of western democracies underscore the need for fast-paced and tailored responses to the evolution of these organizations.”
This month, France appeared to accept that it would need to keep thousands of troops in Africa’s Sahel region for an indefinite period because of the ongoing instability and preponderance of Islamist militants.
Speaking to lawmakers, French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault sought to reassure regional allies that Paris would not abandon them despite pressure on its military, which has not only seen it increase its operating in the Middle East, but also on home soli in the wake of a series of Islamist attacks in 2015 and this year. Speaking at a parliamentary debate on his country’s overseas operations, Ayrault disclosed that “France remains committed as long as the jihadist threat continues to weigh on the future of these countries,” adding, “what message would we be sending if we envisaged a reduction of our effort? We do not have the right to abandon our African brothers at the exact moment when they need us the most to consolidate the fragile balances.”
After deploying troops to Mali, France has since spread some 4,000 soldiers across the West African region in a bid to hunt down Islamists. United Nations peacekeepers have also been deployed to ensure Mali’s stability however the UN’s forces have lacked equipment and resources making a political settlement between Tuaregs and the Malian government increasingly fragile and paving the way for Islamists and traffickers to exploit a void in the northern region of the country. According to Ayrault, “we know it will be long and difficult (because) the national reconciliation process is taking time to come into effect, securing the north is slow and terrorist groups continue to destabilize the region by carrying out attacks on Mali’s borders at the entrances to other countries like Niger and Ivory Coast.”
At the end of this month, France will seek to discuss Mali when it hosts a ministerial meeting on UN peacekeeping operations in French-speaking countries to see how to increase and improve their efficiency.
The region, which spans from Mauritania in the west to Sudan in the east, is host to a number of jihadist groups and is seen as being vulnerable to further attacks after strikes on soft targets in Burkina Faso and Ivory Coast earlier this year. The region’s security concerns have further been highlighted by a recent spike in violence in northern Mali, where France intervened three years ago in a bid to drive out al-Qaeda-linked militants who took control of a rebellion in 2012 by ethnic Tuaregs and attempted to take control of the central government in Bamako. More recently, insecurity in northern Mali seems too have spread in the region, particularly into neighbouring Niger where a string of incidents this month, including the kidnapping of a US NGO worker, has prompted officials across the region to enhance security measures.
On 31 October, France formally ended Operation Sangaris in the Central African Republic, almost three years after the military mission was launched in December 2013 in a bid to quell inter-ethnic unrest in the country.
The operation initially ran alongside an African Union (AU) peacekeeping mission, which was known as MISCA and which later morphed into the UN’s MINUSCA force, which aimed to help restore stability in the capital city Bangui. The mission has however, for the most part, failed to end violence elsewhere in the country, as clashes have continued to erupt in recent weeks and tensions remain high.
At its height, France had more than 2,500 troops from various French units that took part in the mission. In June 2016, France indicated that it had reduced its force in the CAR to 350 soldiers, who would serve as tactical reserve force for the UN peacekeepers, effectively announcing the end of its military mission there. The number of soldiers is due to fall below 300 by early next year with the remaining troops deployed as part of a European military training mission, to support UN drone operations or as a rapid reaction unit supporting the national army.
France’s withdrawal has effectively left security largely in the hands of MINUSCA, the 13,000-strong UN peacekeeping mission, however in recent weeks, criticism of the force has increased, with local people accusing the peacekeepers of not doing enough in order to protect them. The National Assembly president, Abdoul Karim Meckassoua, has expressed concern that the French troops’ departure would exacerbate a deteriorating security climate.
About 3,500 French troops are currently stationed in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania and Niger as part of Operation Barkhane in order to fight militancy in West Africa and the Sahel region.
Overview of Operation Sangaris
- 5 December 2013 – Widespread clashes erupted in Bangui, leaving hundreds dead in the streets.
- Christian milita groups, known as anti-Balaka (anti-machete) attacked a number of areas in the capital city, targeting Muslims and triggering revenge attacks by the mainly-Muslim Seleka rebel alliance. Seleka fighters has already targeted the majority Christian population, a key reason as to why the anti-Balaka group emerged. Attacks by both sides, mostly targeting civilians, plunged the CAR into a humanitarian, political and security crisis.
- Several hours after the violence broke out, a French operation force began deploying across the country as part of a UN-mandated effort to quell the deadly wave of sectarian violence. The operation was named “Sangaris” after a small red butterfly that is common the region.
- At the time, French President Francois Hollande disclosed that the troops would remain in the country “as long as necessary,” noting however that the operation was “not designed to last.” Paris, which had already deployed troops to Mali in January of that year in order to battle jihadist groups, watched the situation in the CAR continue to deteriorate following the overthrow in March of Francois Bozize by Seleka rebels who were led by Michel Djotodia.
- An initial force of about 1,200 French marines, paratroopers and engineering units was official deployed to back up the AU’s MISCA force, however they quickly found themselves on the Front line. Their mandate was to “disarm all milita and other armed group s that have terrorized the population” and the fist objective was to secure the capital city and tis 4.5 million inhabitants.
- Between February to September 2014 – Combat troops also secured a road link from Bangui to neighbouring Cameroon.
- September 2014 – Un soldiers from MINUSCA took over the MISCA troops.
- 14 February 2016 – Faustin-Archange Touadera is elected president, effectively capping a chaotic political transition. Three months later, President Hollande visited Bangui, declaring that stability “has been restored.” Elsewhere in the country however armed groups continued to plague the population. Former Seleka units remain active and a total disarmament of militia groups appears to be unlikely.
- Since July 2014, the force has been under growing pressure following the emergence of allegations of child rape by French soldiers deployed in the CAR. French prosecutors opened an investigation, however the allegations did not become public until April 2015. Since then, other reports have emerged about troops’ alleged involvement in sexual attacks and giving children food and sometimes small amounts of money for sexual services. Currently, the Sangaris force is subject to three investigations into separate allegations of sexual abuse of children in the CAR. In June 2016, Paris prosecutors also opened a preliminary investigation into allegations that French troops beat up, or stood by while others beat up two people in the CAR.
- France has intervened military in the CAR a number of times. The CAR, which is a former French colony, won independence in 1960.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel headed to Africa on Sunday 9 October on a trip that aims to seek investment opportunities, which her government hopes will drive economic development on the continent and curb future waves of migration to Europe.
A flood of almost a million migrants into Germany in 2015 has had an impact on Merkel’s popularity at home. While a European Union (EU) agreement with Turkey has helped stem the flow from the Middle East and Asia, thousands of people still risk the perilous Mediterranean crossing every day from Africa to Europe. According to German Development Minister Gerd Mueller, “the migration pressure will increase dramatically in the coming years if we do not manage to generate economic prospects in African countries. Mueller has pointed to the energy sector as an area where there was an opportunity for a “win-win partnership” for Africa and German business, which have been pioneering in developing solar technology.
Merkel has described Africa as “the central problem” in the migration issue. Last month, she stated that the EU needed to establish migrant deals with North African countries along the lines of the Turkey deal. In her first multi-day trip to Africa since 2011, she will visit Mali on Sunday, Niger on Monday and Ethiopia on Tuesday. Merkel, who has yet to declare if she will seek a fourth term as chancellor next year, wants to discuss bilateral aid and business investment on her trip, as opposed to aiming to secure any deals to return migrants there. During an industry conference on 6 October, she stated, “being an open society means that we should trying to aim for a kind of blanca such that the fist thing for young Africans, when they get a smartphone in their hands, isn’t ‘I have to go where I see a better world,’ bur rather that they live in a country in which things are at least getting better step by step…This is our task.”
Germany, France and Italy want to develop particularly close partnerships with Mali and Niger, as they see these states as being key in the migration issue. In Mali, Germany has over 550 soldiers that are taking part of a UN peacekeeping mission, while in neighbouring Niger, it will open a military base aimed at combating regional jihadists.