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Is Afghan Terrorism Comparable to Terrorism in Africa?

Same causes and same effects? Does Afghan terrorism, which made the United States retreat, have anything to do with terrorism in Africa?

The Western withdrawal from Afghanistan did not give rise to the "democracy" expected by the rest of the world at the start of the war. Worse, for the Americans, it looks like a failure: the Taliban now control Afghanistan after nearly two decades of a Western coalition presence. This victory of the armed terrorist groups - or the defeat of the Western occupation forces - foreshadows a similar situation in other countries, and in particular in Mali where the French army has been present for nearly eight years. We had already seen this in Somalia, where a poorly negotiated US-British withdrawal only aggravated the terrorist threat in the region.

A front line moving towards Africa?

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari believes that with the departure of the Americans from Kabul, the terrorist threat that the United States was fighting in Afghanistan "is shifting to the continent". However, the American failure in the Far East risks changing world policy with regard to the fight against terrorism. What Buhari laments: “Few people expect the spending here to be as high as in Afghanistan. The fight against terrorism that began under the administration of George W. Bush has never been truly global, ”he explains, adding that“ despite the increase in attacks in Africa over the past decade, the international aid did not follow ”.

For the President of Nigeria, the fight against terrorism must be globalized. Because, to listen to him, terrorism would also be global, international. “All terrorism, even international, however, has local roots. It feeds above all on the problems specific to a country or a region of the world ", nuance Jakkie Cilliers, author of" Africa and terrorism ", who considers that" the absence of a unifying motivational context, as one found all over the 'Muslim world' for example ”has long delayed the arrival of large-scale terrorism in Africa. But the breeding ground was favorable for the outbreak of international terrorism, because of its "many ramifications, from Algeria to South Africa", insists Jakkie Cilliers.

If the front line is moving towards Africa, as the Nigerian head of state indicates, the United States is indeed less present in this zone than Europe, and more particularly France. Formerly active during humanitarian crises, foreign powers now have the terrorist threat in their sights. Or rather terrorist threats. “The emergence and expansion of complex terrorist groups, sometimes rivals of each other, and claiming to be radical Islam, has accelerated significantly in recent decades and now dominate military operations of the United States. France and the United States in Africa ”, summarizes Jean-Yves Haine, in a report from the French Institute of International Relations (Ifri). In the Sahel, in the Chad Basin or in Mozambique, the counterterrorism forces are not the same, even if the operating methods and the objectives are similar.

The ignorance of the terrain by the Western armies

If the Taliban are in power today in Afghanistan, it is more of a failure of the US military than a victory of the terrorists. The beginnings of the West are real weapons of propaganda for terrorist groups, especially African, who do not hesitate to brandish the banner of foreign interference to rally populations to their cause. So much so that in Mali, the majority of the population says they are ready to discuss with the terrorists to find a solution to the conflict. The French withdrawal announced in northern Mali is, for example, interpreted as a failure by terrorist propaganda. The last outing of Adnan Abou Walid al Sahraoui, head of the EIGS, in early August, avoided talking about the neutralization of his lieutenants by Barkhane to underline a "divine victory against the disbelievers".

The abandonment of Afghanistan by the United States should also be an important axis of communication for the African populations who see what disaster a military withdrawal after several years can bring. Especially since on the continent, the enemy is not united, like the Taliban. The Sahel-Saharan axis, northern Mozambique and northern Mali are under assault from several terrorist groups, some of which are global - the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara (EIGS) and al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) said their allegiance to Daesh and al-Qaeda groups. But African armies, assisted by Western armies or peacekeeping forces, if they face these major organizations as a priority, have to deal with dozens of insurgent or terrorist armed groups present in the same areas of operation.

A question of ideology?

In Afghanistan, the drug manna has kept the Taliban going. The race for raw materials, in every war against terrorism, is therefore a constant. Harvard researcher Elizabeth Holland specifies that “the first bargaining chip in a conflict zone is always material”. She concludes her report on "the fight against terrorism and humanitarian commitment" by recalling that "ideological warfare" cannot function without money. But ideology remains the main engine of the battle. “The economics of war are intrinsic to the fight against terrorism, but how do you defeat an enemy who has nothing to lose and everything to gain? “Asks the specialist. However, it is difficult for armies used to having a well-defined enemy to launch into asymmetrical wars.

For the African Forum of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the Sahelian conflict zones are also "the ground of a war for natural resources, a lever of political influence". Dr. Oriane Ben Attar recalls that, for a large part of international opinion, “the French intervention to assist Mali actually hid France's desire to play the policeman of Africa in order to preserve its influence and interests ”. One of the imminent dangers of the rise of the fight against terrorism in Africa remains the ineffectiveness of military interventions carried out by states which impoverish the community it seeks to liberate. The breeding ground for terrorism is indeed also the socio-economic poverty in which the populations affected by terrorism are plunged.

So, how to effectively fight terrorism in Africa? The UN has called for "strengthening Africa's voice in the international debate on terrorism," said Patrick Hayford, director of the Office of the UN Special Adviser on Africa (OSAA). For the past fifteen years, the UN authorities have called for abandoning radical military responses to terrorism and have positioned themselves in favor of a more nuanced approach, which would combine security issues with those of development and with the promotion of human rights. 'man.

But for the researcher, specialist in conflict resolution, Damola Adejumo-Ayibiowu, the question is elsewhere: "I define the liberal democracy of the West in the African context as a political arrangement which guarantees the interests of the imperial and capitalist countries, in in particular by ensuring free access to African resources and trade ”. He then calls for considering "the differences between colonial laws and African values". A factor which, once taken into account, would completely disarm the propaganda of terrorist groups in Africa.

Humanitarian situation fuels terrorist groups in Africa

The first victims of terrorism in Africa are civilians. Since 2007, there have been tens of thousands of direct victims of terrorist attacks: 24 in Nigeria, more than 000 in Somalia, 8 in Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Libya and Mali, among others. A certain fear results from this, faced with the absence of the security forces. UNHCR counts more than 000 million internally displaced persons and refugees in areas invaded by Armed Terrorist Groups (GAT) out of a total of 2 million African refugees. Staggering figures, which show the social consequences of terrorism in Africa.

However, NGOs often accuse the armed forces of presenting a record similar to that of the GATs. And among the "collateral damage" of the bombings targeting terrorist groups, some are caused directly by foreign armies. Latest scandals: Barkhane's soldiers who bombed a marriage in Mali in January, and targeted a group of teenagers in March. The South African paramilitaries, for their part, abandoned many civilians during the evacuation of Palma, causing their capture and executions by armed groups. In Somalia, the resumption - illegal - of the bombings caused a media outcry. In the “Three Borders” area, the deaths of civilians at the hands of the defense and security forces exceed those of terrorist groups.

Terrorist Groups in Africa "Afghanize"

In Afghanistan, terrorism is the direct result of the "Great Game", the colonial rivalry between Russia and the United Kingdom, followed by that between the Soviet Union and the West on the fringes of the Cold War. In Africa, the situation is quite different. The post-colonial proxy wars, particularly in Central Africa and along the Sahelo-Saharan strip, have only adopted the terrorist modus operandi since the 2000s. Then followed the exodus of Shebabs to Mozambique and that of ADF to the DRC, the split of Boko Haram or the conversion of several secessionist movements on the continent.

But just as the Taliban in Afghanistan shifted from a politicized militia format to a subversive modus operandi, African terrorist groups have drawn inspiration from the Afghan model. Americans are aware of this: "The attacks of the Islamic State in Africa mean that the war on terrorism is far from over," Joe Biden said in March. The French, for their part, did not start importing adequate equipment for African terrain until 2020. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs), sporadic raids in villages - punitive expeditions according to local authorities - are part of the mode operation of African GATs.

United Nations Mine Action Service (SLAM) IED Advisor Bryan Sans says “the cost of an AK-47 in relation to its effects is high compared to the cost of an IED which can ruin a lot more. life and property worth hundreds of thousands of dollars. IEDs are the preferred weapons of terrorist groups across Africa and the world ”. In both cases, the objective is clear for the African GATs: to impose themselves by fear in the rural areas, and to force the States to negotiate.

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