Report – Counterterrorism in East, North and West Africa

SFAB in Africa

The Lead Inspector General quarterly report to the U.S. Congress on counterterrorism efforts in Africa has been published. The report details operations in North and West Africa against al Qaeda, ISIS affiliates, and other terrorist groups over the months of January, February, and March 2020.

A Late Publication of the Report. It would have been published in mid-May based on the quarterly schedule; however, there were some classification and operational security concerns of the original content. Of note: there is very little mention of U.S. special operations forces activity in the report. Congress also receives a classified version of this report.

BLUF: Violent extremist organization (VEO) activity “. . . appears to be outpacing, U.S., European, and African efforts to counter it.”

East Africa. The publication reports on the activities of al Shabaab in the Horn of Africa. It details the attack on Camp Simba, Kenya, increased airstrikes in Somali by the U.S., and the efforts of African Union and Somalian forces to degrade al Shabaab. It concludes that al Shabaab remains “. . . adaptive, resilient, and capable of attacking Western and partner interests in Somalia and East Africa.” Mention is made of the Danab Advanced Infantry Brigade – one of the more elite units in the Somali security forces.

West Africa. VEO attacks have increased in West Africa. The United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) continues to provide limited operational support to African, French, and other forces in the region. France is leading the international counterterrorism effort in that part of Africa. Task Force Takuba was recently deployed – consisting of NATO SOF units from several European countries.

North Africa. The U.S. presence in North Africa is small compared to its presence and activity in other regions of Africa. While VEOs have been relatively quiet the region is still a hotbed of military activity. Libya’s civil war continues – with involvement by a number of international actors from Europe and the Middle East intervening on each side of the conflict. Foreign mercenary forces introduced by Russia and Turkey have escalated the civil war. The classified version of this report most likely contains some interesting accounts of U.S. activity in North Africa.

COVID-19. The coronavirus disease pandemic has been a challenge to U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa. Advising to African forces by AFRICOM has been scaled back. The Department of State and USAID have sent many of its staff home to the United States. Two major multinational exercises scheduled to take place were cancelled due to COVID-19 – Exercise Phoenix Express and Exercise African Lion.

Numbers of U.S. Forces. There were approximately 5,100 U.S. military personnel and 1,000 contractors and DoD civilians in Africa during the 3-month period (Jan – Feb 2020). Most are based at Camp Lemonier in Djibiouti – the location of Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Some personnel are serving in austere locations where the network of bases, supply chains, airlift, and medical evacuation is limited.

SFAB. Advisory teams from the 1st Security Force Assistance Brigade were scheduled to deploy to various locations in Africa. However, the coronavirus pandemic has scaled back some of the SFAB’s activities. Congress has expressed concern about the safety of SFAB personnel, available resources, and infrastructure required to support the SFAB.

SOF. The report covers the annual exercise conducted by Special Operations Command Africa – Exercise Flintlock. This special operations exercise is focused on enhancing the ability of Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership nations to plan and execute advanced counter-VEO operations. Not much else is mentioned about U.S. special operations in the report.

Reduced Focus on Africa? The Department of Defense is currently reviewing the posture of U.S. forces in Africa. The intent is to align DoD resources with the objectives of the 2018 National Defense Strategy which shifts focus from counterterrorism threats to competition with Russia and China.

Summary. The VEOs across the northern part of Africa continue to operate and grow their networks. Efforts to defeat the VEOs have thus far been ineffective. Several new initiatives to counter the VEOs are being implemented and are mentioned in the report. Many U.S. allies and African partner nations are waiting on a U.S. decision about its future security commitments to the continent.

East Africa Counterterrorism Operation – North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operation, Lead Inspector General Report to the United States Congress, July 17, 2020, 90 pages, PDF.
View report online.


Photo: Image: From Lead IG report. Members of a Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB) training Senegalese soldiers. U.S. Army photo.

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