The Sahel region should be an Arab security concern

Many extremists fleeing the Levant are ending up in the Sahel.
Sunday 01/04/2018
Burkinabe soldiers patrol in Ouagadougou, a day after dozens of people were killed in twin attacks on the French embassy, on March 3. (AFP)
Precarious situation. Burkinabe soldiers patrol in Ouagadougou, a day after dozens of people were killed in twin attacks on the French embassy, on March 3. (AFP)

The situation in Africa’s Sahel region should concern the Arab world and beyond.

Mauritania, Burkina Faso, Chad, Niger and Mali — the Group of Five Sahel bloc — have been trying to get their act together to thwart jihadist threats.

Trafficking and terrorism have long been intertwined south of the Sahara but the situation worsened since Muammar Qaddafi’s fall in 2011 and the subsequent flow of Tuareg fighters from Libya to Mali.

Since February 2017, a French-led initiative has tried to assemble a 5,000-strong force around the G5 Sahel bloc. Key Arab countries have been supportive, not least Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In recent weeks, the United States has also sharpened its focus on militants affiliated with al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) in Libya and north-western Africa. On March 24, a US air strike on Ubari in south-western Libya, killed Musa Abu Dawud, a senior al-Qaeda militant who was training terrorist recruits.

David Beasley, of the World Food Programme, recently warned that many extremists fleeing the Levant after the collapse of ISIS are ending up in the Sahel from where they could wreak havoc in Africa and the Mediterranean littoral.

Pointing to a possible migration crisis out of that region, he added: “You’re talking about the greater Sahel region of 500 million people, so the Syria crisis could be like a drop in the bucket compared to what’s coming your way.”

Never has the situation in the Sahel looked so relevant to the Arab region’s security concerns.

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