A top U.S. general this weekend warned that a “wildfire of terrorism” is sweeping across Africa as the continent seems poised to become the next global epicenter for Islamic extremism.
Speaking to reporters during a major international military exercise in Morocco, Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend said affiliates of al Qaeda and the Islamic State group are growing stronger in Africa, particularly across the Sahel region in the north. The Sahel includes parts of Mali, Niger, Chad and Sudan.
Meanwhile, the al Qaeda offshoot al-Shabab controls huge swaths of territory across Somalia and routinely carries out deadly terrorist attacks along the Horn of Africa.
All of those extremist groups are “on the march,” said Gen. Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command.
“I am concerned about the security situation across a band of Africa,” he said.
Despite years of counterterrorism campaigns, Gen. Townsend said, the situation is deteriorating.
“All of that does not seem to be sufficient enough to stop what I call … [the] wildfire of terrorism that’s sweeping that region,” he said.
Roughly 7,000 U.S. personnel are stationed across Africa. In December, President Trump ordered the withdrawal of about 700 troops from Somalia who were leading the fight against al-Shabab.
Most of those forces relocated to other U.S. bases across Africa. American airstrikes against al-Shabab have continued.
While the U.S. conducts counterterrorism missions in other African nations, it does not have enough ground troops to defeat the various jihadi groups gaining ground across the continent. Washington has little political will to commit additional manpower to battle terrorism in Africa.
Instead, the U.S. is relying on its coalition partners. Gen Townsend spoke to reporters during the “Africa Lion” military exercise. The major drill included troops from the U.S., Morocco, Tunisia, Senegal, Italy, the Netherlands and Britain.
France also is playing a leading role in counterterrorism campaigns in Africa.