The War on Terror is increasingly moving to Africa. The United States Institute of Peace – a federal institution, founded by Congress, tasked with promoting conflict resolution and prevention worldwide – reports that there has been:
A rise and expansion of ISIL provinces and affiliates around the world – now stretching across Europe, Russia, Eurasia, Asia, and Africa…the central trend has been the displacement of activity away from the Middle East and North Africa, with a global presence becoming an increasing part of the Islamic State’s operations. In 2019, Islamic State provinces and affiliates accounted for 74 percent of all the deaths from the group’s acts of terrorism. In particular, the African continent has become a focus of affiliates’ growth and increasing activity, with sub-Saharan Africa by itself now accounting for 41 percent of deaths.
For example, Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country and the largest economy, continues to be under attack from jihadist terrorist groups Boko Haram and the Islamic State West Africa Province (ISWAP).
The U.S. Department of State reports that “these groups have conducted numerous attacks on government and civilian targets, resulting in thousands of deaths and injuries, widespread destruction, the internal displacement of more than two million persons, and the external displacement of somewhat more than an estimated 300,000 Nigerian refugees to neighboring countries.”
These groups have “recruited and forcefully conscripted child soldiers; and carried out scores of person-borne improvised explosive device attacks – many by coerced young women and girls – and other attacks on population centers in the Northeast and in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Abductions by Boko Haram and the Islamic State in West Africa continued. Both groups subjected many women and girls to sexual and gender-based violence, including forced marriages, sexual slavery, and rape.” : (
Of particular concern is Chad, one of America’s most important security partners in Central Africa. According to U.S. classified intelligence documents allegedly leaked online by Airman 1st Class Jack Teixeira, a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard, a Russian paramilitary organization called the Wagner Group is attempting to recruit and train hundreds of rebel fighters from Libya, Sudan and the Central African Republic in an “evolving plot to topple the Chadian government.”
The documents go on to say that the end goal of these efforts is to create a “unified ‘confederation’ of African states,” to include Burkina Faso, Chad, Eritrea, Guinea, Mali, Niger, and Sudan.
Violence by Islamic State loyalists in Northern Mozambique has displaced almost 670,000 people and thrown over a million people into a humanitarian crisis. The United Nations (UN) reports there are over 100 armed groups operating in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), including longtime rebel group Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) which established ties with ISIS in late 2018. These groups routinely attack civilians, the Armed Forces of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (FARDC), and UN peacekeepers.
In March 2021, the United States Department of State “designated the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – Democratic Republic of the Congo (ISIS-DRC) and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria – Mozambique (ISIS-Mozambique) as Foreign Terrorist Organizations and also designated ISIS-DRC and ISIS-Mozambique as Specially Designated Global Terrorists (SDGTs), while also designating respective leaders of those organizations, Seka Musa Baluku and Abu Yasir Hassan, as SDGTs.”
The 2022 Annual Threat Assessment of the Intelligence Community warns that:
East Africa probably will see new bouts of conflict in the coming year as the region becomes increasingly strained by the civil war in Ethiopia, power struggles within the transitional government in Sudan, continued instability in Somalia, and a potentially contentious election in Kenya.
In Ethiopia, the prospects for a long-term ceasefire remain slim because the belligerents probably do not believe the other side will negotiation in good faith or have a right to be at the table, increasing the prospects for continued conflict, atrocities, and food insecurity. Sudan is almost certain to start on a protracted and fragile path towards civilian governance that will depend on reconciliation among three opposing elements: the guarded security leadership, the fragmented political coalition, and the mercurial street. In Somalia, leaders’ myopic focus on politicking has led to government paralysis, widening the opening for al-Shabaab and raising the risk of recurring outbreaks of violence in Mogadishu.
In West Africa, a volatile mixture of democratic backsliding, intercommunal violence, and terrorism will threaten the region’s stability. Recent undemocratic transfers of power in Burkina Faso, Chad, Guinea and Mali highlight the region’s fragility and in some cases the belief among publics that their government are not able to effectively deliver services or managing expanding insecurity. Some of the leaders who remain in power are turning to autocratic, state-centric, and religious governance practices, with some prioritizing security in key urban centers while ceding rural territory to jihadists.
These concerns join the warnings from the 2019 Worldwide Threat Assessment of the U.S. Intelligence Community:
Several countries and regions in Sub-Saharan Africa are likely to face significant security, counterterrorism, democratization, economic, and humanitarian challenges. Political unrest in countries such as Zimbabwe and Sudan highlight the ongoing challenges facing many governments across the continent. African countries’ outreach and cooperation with external actors – such as China and Russia – will increase.
Countries in the Sahel – particularly Chad, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger – almost certainly will be vulnerable to an increase in terrorist attacks as they struggle to contain terrorist groups and improve governance and security. al-Qaeda-affiliated Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) and its extremist allies present a growing threat, with attacks increasing during the past year. Implementation of Mali’s peace accord – an essential step for extending governance into terrorist safe havens in northern and central Mali – probably will be difficult because remaining steps are politically and financially sensitive.
Sudan and South Sudan
“Violence and the humanitarian crisis in South Sudan are likely to persist, while Sudan probably wants to improve relations with the United States but will continue reaching out to other partners to boost its economy. In South Sudan, the peace agreement signed between the government and opposition groups in September 2017 faces delays and implementation difficulties. Acute food insecurity and constraints on aid access – resulting from poor infrastructure, seasonal rains, active hostilities, and government- and opposition-imposed impediments – are likely to contribute to an ongoing humanitarian crisis. Meanwhile, Khartoum, despite facing antigovernment protests over its poor economic situation, is committed to pursuing efforts to improve its relationship with the United States and wants to be removed from the U.S. State Sponsors of Terrorism List. Sudan also will strengthen ties to other partners – including Russia and Turkey – in an effort to diversify its partnerships and improve its economic situation.”
< Note: In October 2021, Sudan’s military seized power, opening fire on protesters and arresting the prime minister. This effectively ended the uneasy power-sharing agreement between Sudan’s military and civilian leaders, which was negotiated in 2019 after the uprising against Omar Hassan al-Bashir.
In April 2023, fighting intensified in the capital of Khartoum between the Sudanese Army and a paramilitary group called the Rapid Support Forces, forcing the U.S. and other countries to evacuate embassy staff. >
Horn of Africa
“The states of East Africa will confront internal tension and a continuing threat from al-Shabaab, despite improved intergovernmental relations and Ethiopian-Eritrean rapprochement. Elite competition, corruption, and poor coordination among security services in Somalia will hamper efforts to tamp down violence. The African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) is unlikely to engage in aggressive offensive operations against al-Shabaab in advance of the mission’s scheduled withdrawal from Somalia by 2021. Ethiopia and Eritrea will struggle to balance political control with demands for reform from domestic constituencies.
Central Africa Political unrest across Central Africa is likely to persist, compounding humanitarian challenges and armed conflict. The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) is recovering from its contentious presidential election in December 2018, as well as dealing with an ongoing Ebola outbreak and internal displacement crisis. Meanwhile, violence among armed groups in several regions of the DRC threatens regional and national stability, and violence in eastern DRC impedes efforts to respond to the Ebola outbreak. The Central African Republic (CAR) is struggling to make progress toward a peace agreement between the government and multiple armed groups.”
Special Note: Since November 2020, the Ethiopian government has been conducting military operations against the Tigray region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Infrastructure – including hospitals, schools and businesses – has been destroyed by Ethiopian military forces and regional militias, as well as by Eritrean armed forces (Eritrea is also a country in Africa). Over 200,000 people have been forced to flee their homes, with thousands flooding into Sudan, and 2.3 million people are in desperate need of humanitarian aid.