News BlogWest Africa - Sahel

The terrorist threat is moving towards the Gulf of Guinea

(B2) For Bernard Emié, the head of the DGSE, the head of French foreign intelligence, we are not done with terrorism in Africa. From the Sahel, terrorist groups swarm and extend their influence towards southern and western Africa

General François Lecointre (Chief of Defense Staff) and Bernard Emié (Director of the DGSE), alongside the Minister for the Armed Forces, Florence Parly (credit: DICOD France)

In the Sahel: the objective of disorganizing armed groups

Bernard Emié's remarks are deliberately offensive, echoing the words of the President of the Republic: " With terrorists, we do not argue. We fight. ". The action carried out has made it possible to "sustainably weaken our enemies", particularly in Iraq or on the internal level. In the Sahel, too, it has made it possible "to disorganize terrorist groups and hinder most of their leaders". A good part of the work is thus to identify the leaders, in order to eliminate them.

Like the card game distributed by the Americans at the time of the intervention in Iraq against Saddam Hussein, the DGSE clearly displays the 'neutralizations' (= 'elimination') of certain leaders of Al Qaeda (image source: DGSE )

Expanding to West Africa, even Europe

Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) is currently developing a " expansion project » towards the Gulf of Guinea, in particular the Ivory Coast and Benin. From Mali, the terrorists reflect on attacks in the region and in Europe ” released the director general of French foreign intelligence (DGSE), Bernard Emié, during a trip by the minister to the special forces air base in Orléans, for an anti-terrorist executive committee on Monday (1.02).

The two terrorist networks. One descended rather from the rebel 'pockets' of northern Mali, close to the Algerian border, the other (Daesh) more endogenous, which grew in Liptako, in the area of ​​the three borders between Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso ( Source Map: DGSE)

Caught in a vice, the networks extend

In addition to " already finance men who are spreading in these two countries, fighters have been sent to the borders of Nigeria, Niger, Chad, where several groups from Boko Haram continue to weave their web and assassinate “, he described. " These countries are now a target for terrorists. The reason ? According to him, terrorists are in fact " caught in a vice " and so " extend to the south ».

The threat from the Middle East and Afghanistan is spreading to Africa (Source Map: DGSE)

Direction East and Southern Africa, even Europe

However, the dispersal of terrorist forces does not stop at the Sahelian borders. And should not be taken lightly. The head of the DGSE is formal: “ The situation in East Africa, from the Shebabs of Somalia [Al Qaeda Editor's note] to the recent infiltrations of the Islamic State in Mozambique “, two countries on the east coast of the African continent” are also of great concern to us ».

AQIM leaders caught in the act

The highlight of the conference is the presentation of a video. We can see a group of men gathered under the tent to discuss their future operations. Here are the main leaders of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, including Lyad ag-Ghali, the head of GSIM (Support Group for Islam and Muslims) the 'Sahel' subsidiary of AQIM (with the red turban) , the leader of Katiba Macina, Amadou Kouffa (considered Al Qaeda's number 2 in the Sahel) (with the black turban), Abdelmalek Droukdel, the leader of AQIM (with the turban, killed by Barkhane forces on June 3, 2020 ).

Comment: a strategic communication action above all

This public outing of an intelligence director, who traditionally remains in the shadows, is far from trivial, especially since it is not improvised.

In terms of information, there is not much concrete to glean, apart from this video. And again, it does not prove much, apart from the fact that leaders of armed gangs meet to coordinate their action. Which is the basis of an armed movement. However, we have confirmation that it is mainly Al Qaeda and its subsidiaries in the Sahel that is targeted, and less the Islamic State (Daesh) and that part of the intelligence action aims at the elimination ('neutralisation ' in the official terminology) of the different leaders of the movements. A rather limited strategy if we judge by the results on the ground.

In terms of threats, we already know that Somalia is not a haven of peace and that there is a terrorist risk in Mozambique, as in West Africa. " There are still major risks of development of jihadists in the area that goes from the Horn of Africa to Guinea-Bissau said Jean-Yves Le Drian, then Defense Minister, in July 2014, during the transformation of Operation Serval into Operation Barkhane, already evoking a risk for Europe.

« The purpose of this presence is to prevent [the north of the five Sahel countries] does not become a network, a permanent crossing point for the reconstitution of jihadist groups between Libya and the Atlantic Ocean, which would then have serious consequences for our security ". Indeed when an intelligence director says it in front of the cameras, it can have more weight than a politician, who one might suspect of ulterior motives.

How to analyze it then? The first message is for internal purposes. This is to indicate that the threat is not defeated, but being tracked. This makes it possible to counter the few criticisms of Barkhane's usefulness, such as the temptations to reduce its spectrum or to negotiate with armed groups. 'Enemies', 'terrorists', the term could not be more warlike. The second objective is for external use, vis-à-vis Europeans and Americans alike. A brief reminder of the importance of the French operation, and its effectiveness, at a time when the Biden administration is reviewing all of its military presence objectives, including in Africa, is useful. Ditto for the Europeans – from the British to the Spaniards, via the Germans or the Italians – who are struggling to engage in a more pronounced way.

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, with Aurélie Pugnet)

B2 Writing

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