Classified Memo Details How U.S. Commandos Are Getting Beaten By Terrorists in Africa
VICE World News has obtained formerly secret recent Pentagon report, Special Operations Command Africa details the failures of U.S. Commandos in Africa over the last two years. Halfway through their four year campaign, the U.S. military is already failing at combating “violent extremist organizations” in Africa, according to a recent Pentagon report and formerly secret plans.
Islamic State’s Central Africa Province The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) announced the launch of the Islamic State Central Africa Province (ISCAP) in April 2019 to promote the presence of ISIS associated elements within Central, East, and Southern Africa
SOCAFRICA is a sub-unified command of USSOCOM under operational control of United States Africa Command, with headquarters in Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart-Mohringen, Germany. Subordinate SOCAFRICA organizations include: Special Operations Task Force East Africa, Joint Special Operations Task Force – Somalia, Special Operations Task Force North West Africa, Joint Special Operations Air Component Africa, Naval Special Warfare Unit Ten, and SOCAFRICA Signal Detachment. Commander SOCAFRICA serves as the Special Operations Advisor to Commander, USAFRICOM. SOCAFRICA’s primary responsibility is to exercise operational control over theater-assigned or allocated Air Force, Army, Marine, or Navy special operations forces conducting operations, exercises, and theater security cooperation in the USAFRICOM area of responsibility.
The Islamic State and the Taliban have repeatedly proven themselves to be adaptive enemies. The Islamic State, in particular, has a long track record of regenerating whenever pressure dissipates – as it did after the U.S. withdrawal from Iraq in 2011. The group is currently thought to be moribund, but it retains thousands of active fighters and dozens of networks across the Middle East, Africa, and Asia. For their part, the Taliban are stronger, with greater territorial reach and more combat power than any time since 2001. Al-Qaeda in Afghanistan-Pakistan remains robust and continues to expand its footprint. And while Africa’s oldest jihadist insurgencies continue to thrive in the Horn of Africa, the Lake Chad Basin, and the Sahel, new groups are emerging in Mozambique and elsewhere.
[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader’s awareness.]
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An Islamic State affiliate dramatically escalated its campaign in Mozambique last week, overrunning Palma in the country’s far north. The takeover gives Salafi-jihadi militants control of a second port and has intensified the country’s already dire humanitarian crisis. The attack’s targets included foreign personnel of a nearby liquefied natural gas project.
Islamic State militants are on track to gain a permanent foothold on Africa’s eastern coastline. Mozambique’s military lacks the capability and man power to wage an effective counterinsurgency campaign in the remote region bordering Tanzania. Recently announced US and Portuguese efforts to train partner forces in Mozambique will not have a significant effect given these structural weaknesses.
Salafi-jihadi militants are also gaining ground in the Sahel region in West Africa. An Islamic State affiliate has resumed a campaign of high-profile attacks targeting civilians and security forces in Mali and western Niger. This group is poised to capitalize should political unrest destabilize Niger, which suffered a coup attempt on March 31.
Meanwhile, al Qaeda’s Sahel branch is expanding southward into coastal states on the Gulf of Guinea and Atlantic coasts. Militants can now conduct raids from bases in Burkina Faso into Côte d’Ivoire, underscoring Burkina Faso’s rapid deterioration. Burkina Faso was among the most secure countries in this region until 2017, but a Salafi-jihadi insurgency has since displaced more than one million people.
In this Africa File:
Mozambique. Islamic State–linked militants conducted a coordinated attack to seize a second port in northern Mozambique.
Somalia. Al Shabaab is seeking to expand its area of influence in southwestern Somalia. It also targeted Somali government election talks and called for attacks in Djibouti.
Ethiopia. Eritrean troops will remain in Tigray region despite international pressure. Tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt are rising over Ethiopia’s Nile dam.
Sahel. Islamic State militants resumed regular large-scale attacks on civilian targets in Niger, which also faces political unrest following an attempted coup. Al Qaeda’s Sahel affiliate is expanding into coastal West African states.
Libya. The Libyan National Army coalition is fragmenting in Benghazi, creating conditions that may favor the reemergence of Salafi-jihadi groups.
Mozambique. Emily Estelle discussed the Islamic State in Mozambique on BBC World News. Watch here, or listen to a recent radio interview here. Estelle and Jessica Trisko Darden recently published a report on Mozambique, including a forecast and recommended policy response. Read the report here, and view the interactive graphic here.
Ethiopia. CTP is publishing updates on the Ethiopia crisis. Sign up to receive the latest updates by email here. Read Jessica Kocan’s latest update here and Emily Estelle’s background on the conflict here.
Read Further On:
Figure 1. The Salafi-jihadi Movement in Africa: April 2021
Source: Emily Estelle.
Overview: The Salafi-jihadi threat in Africa
Updated April 1, 2021
The Salafi-jihadi movement, which includes al Qaeda and the Islamic State, is active across northern, eastern, and western Africa and is expanding and deepening its presence on the continent. This movement, like any insurgency, draws strength from access to vulnerable and aggrieved populations. Converging trends, including failing states and regional instability, are creating favorable conditions for the Salafi-jihadi movement’s expansion. Meanwhile, counterterrorism efforts rely on the continued efforts of international coalitions, support for which is eroding, and on states and local authorities that have demonstrated an inability to govern effectively.
West Africa. The Salafi-jihadi movement has spread rapidly in West Africa by exploiting ethnic grievances and state weaknesses that include human rights abuses, corruption, and ineffectiveness. An al Qaeda affiliate co-opted the 2012 Tuareg rebellion in Mali and has continued to expand southward through the Sahel region into central Mali and the peripheries of Burkina Faso. An Islamic State–linked group is active in the same area, particularly western Niger. Sahel groups have not yet plotted attacks outside West Africa but have sought to drive Western security and economic presence out of the region while building lucrative smuggling and kidnapping-for-ransom enterprises. An al Qaeda–linked group in Mali is infiltrating governance structures, advancing an overarching Salafi-jihadi objective, and expanding into Gulf of Guinea countries. West Africa has become an area of focus for transnational Salafi-jihadi organizations, with rival jihadists now fighting for dominance in the Sahel.
The Islamic State’s largest African affiliate is based in northwest Nigeria—Africa’s most populous country—and conducts frequent attacks into neighboring Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. Boko Haram and an al Qaeda–linked splinter group are also active in this region.
East Africa. Al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate and the dominant Salafi-jihadi group in East Africa, is vocal about its intent to attack US interests and has begun to plot international terror attacks. The group enjoys de facto control over broad swathes of southern Somalia and can project power in the Somali federal capital Mogadishu and regional capitals where it regularly attacks senior officials. It seeks to delegitimize and replace the weak Somali Federal Government (SFG)—a task made easier by endemic political dysfunction and corruption in Mogadishu. Al Shabaab’s governance ambitions extend to ethnic Somali populations in Kenya and Ethiopia, and the group conducts regular attacks in eastern Kenya.
Al Shabaab is positioned to benefit from eroding security conditions in East Africa. Ethiopia’s destabilization is already having regional effects, including weakening counter–al Shabaab efforts in Somalia. The drawing down of the US and African Union counterterrorism missions in Somalia will also reduce pressure on al Shabaab.
The Islamic State has also penetrated the region. Islamic State branches are now active in northern Somalia, the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, and northern Mozambique, bordering Tanzania, where its affiliate seized a second Mozambican port in March 2021. The Islamic State foothold in Mozambique marks the Salafi-jihadi movement’s expansion into southern Africa.
North Africa. Salafi-jihadi groups in North Africa are at a low point, but the fragility and grievances that led to their rise remain. The Arab Spring uprisings and subsequent security vacuums allowed Salafi-jihadi groups to organize and forge ties with desperate and coerced populations. The rise of the Islamic State brought a peak in Salafi-jihadi activity in North Africa, particularly from its branches in Libya and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula. Counterterrorism pressure has weakened Salafi-jihadi groups across North Africa in the past five years. The insurgencies in Libya and the Sinai are active but contained, and terrorist attacks across the region have decreased. Libya’s political and security crisis will continue to create opportunities for Salafi-jihadi groups, and severe instability or collapse in any North African state would likely bring the Salafi-jihadi threat back to the surface.
The Islamic State in Mozambique (IS-M)[i] conducted a coordinated attack to seize a second port in northern Mozambique. IS-M militants overran Palma, a port city in the far north of Cabo Delgado province near the Tanzanian border. Palma is 50 miles north of Mocimboa da Praia, a port that IS-M seized in August 2020.
The attack on Palma demonstrated a new degree of sophisticated attack planning for IS-M, likely includingpreparations throughout the rainy season in the first three months of 2021. IS-M members gradually infiltratedweapons into the city in backpacks and embedded themselves among community members by wearing military and police uniforms. The group launched the attack in Palma on March 24 with roughly 120 militants. A similarly sized reinforcement arrived the next day. The total attacking force is a large proportion of the group’s estimated 1,000 militants, indicating the attack’s importance to IS-M. The militants targeted a local police station and a military base, likely to hinder the security forces’ response and possibly to seize additional ammunition and weapons. IS-M militants based in neighboring Tanzania also crossed the border into Mozambique to support fighters on March 25. Islamic State media officially declared IS-M’s control of Palma on March 29.[ii] The use of old photos in Islamic State media indicates ongoing challenges with IS-M’s media capability.
IS-M retains control of Palma at time of publication. The Mozambican military has struggled to mount a response. Mozambican Special Forces launched an operation to recapture Palma on March 28 but failed. The head of Dyck Advisory Group, a South African private military contractor that has been involved in the counter–IS-M fight and that worked to evacuate civilians from Palma during the attack, said that Mozambican forces did not join the fight for several days.
Palma presents IS-M with several strategic benefits. Access to the sea will increase the group’s access to food, which has become limited in Cabo Delgado during the conflict. IS-M targeted food trucks during the Palma attack, beheading drivers. Palma’s location 50 miles south of the Tanzanian border may also reflect efforts to strengthen IS-M’s operations in the border region. IS-M has many Tanzanian members and conducted its first cross-border attack into Tanzania in October 2020.
The Palma attack is also a major blow to foreign investment in Mozambique’s hydrocarbon industry. French oil and gas company Total manages a logistical center about five miles from Palma to support its multibillion-dollar gas project on the Afungi peninsula. Total has evacuated about 1,000 workers since the attack, which caused dozens of foreign casualties.
The Palma attack also worsens the already severe humanitarian crisis in northern Mozambique. The attack killeddozens of locals and foreigners, though the exact number of casualties remains unknown, and displaced more than 8,000. The World Food Programme is working to assist 50,000 people affected by the fighting in Palma, which was home to roughly 70,000 residents. Some residents have fled to Mueda, about 110 miles south of Palma, and others to Pemba. However, approximately 6,000 to 10,000 people were waiting to be evacuated from Palma and Afungi as of March 30. The insurgency has displaced approximately 670,000 people to date since IS-M began staging attacks in Cabo Delgado province in 2017.
Forecast: Mozambique’s military will struggle to recapture Palma as it has Mocimboa da Praia. The Palma takeover further limits Mozambican military access to Cabo Delgado province, and moving troops to the area will pose a huge logistical challenge. The Mozambican military’s small size also reduces its ability to conduct effective counterinsurgency. Clearing the city will be particularly difficult as militants hide in civilian homes. (As of April 1, 2021)