By Ogunmade and Kingsley Nwezeh, ThisDayLive
The US-backed AFRICOM has warned that the Islamic State and Al-Qaida terrorist groups are gradually taking over the West African region after being displaced in Syria and Iraq.
Speaking during a virtual media briefing with journalists on Tuesday, the Commander of the US Special Operations Command, Africa, Maj. Gen. Davin Anderson, noted that the extremist groups have begun deploying strategies to re-establish themselves in the region and expand further in the continent without drawing attention.
He said Al-Qaida had expanded in Mali and had moved into northern Burkina Faso, where they attacked infrastructure, took out local governance and security forces, and are now controlling the local economy and exerting control over the population.
“We are seeing them continuing to move further south in Burkina Faso towards those littoral nations in the Gulf of Guinea and also further west towards Senegal and West Africa. So that’s a concern to us as we watch them continue to move throughout the region,” he said.
He stated that Nigeria and other nations battling terrorists should provide leadership in the war against terrorism in order to attract meaningful partnership with the United States and other Western nations.
He said in view of the nature of terrorism and its resilient pattern, it was not appropriate to say that terrorists are defeated.
Anderson said the terror groups were deploying clandestine strategies to re-establish themselves in the region and expand further in the continent, especially West Africa.
He said the right approach was to exploit the weaknesses of the insurgents.
Anderson explained: “I think there are two factors in that. One, each government has to focus on this and provide that focus for international partners to engage with. The other partner– the other part of this is we can’t underestimate the threat these violent extremist organisations pose.
“We, as a community of international nations, keep thinking we have defeated them or we have put them on their back foot and that they’re just moments from disintegration. I think after 20 years we have seen they are very resilient organisations that, although small, they’re able to leverage social media and other forms of media to have an outsized voice and that they continue to recruit and they continue to find opportunities.
“The United States has engaged with Nigeria and continues to engage with them in Intel sharing and in understanding what these violent extremists are doing and that has been absolutely critical to their engagements up in the Borno State and into an emerging area of North-west Nigeria that we’re seeing al-Qaida starting to make some inroads in.”
He stressed the need for intelligence sharing, adding that it, “we stay fully engaged with the Government of Nigeria to provide them an understanding of what these terrorists are doing, what Boko Haram is doing, what ISIS-West Africa is doing, and how ISIS and al-Qaida are looking to expand further south into the littoral areas.”
According to him, the terrorist groups are exploiting grievances and other divide prevalent in countries where they operate.
He said: “We see them come back into Africa and engage more in Africa, we see them exploit other grievances and other divides.
“So we see them being very resilient, creative, and flexible. So I’d ask all of the partners, all of our partners, not to underestimate the threat and not to underestimate what they’re capable of doing and that they are very patient and that they are willing to look for opportunities as they emerge.
“You can’t just say ‘we’ve defeated them,’ you have to continue to address weaknesses and places where these terrorist groups can– that they can exploit.”
We’ll Curb Banditry in North-west, Says Masari
Meanwhile, Katsina State Governor, Hon. Aminu Bello Masari, yesterday pledged that stakeholders in the North-west would curb banditry ravaging the region, saying it would not be allowed to escalate to the Boko Haram insurgency in the North-east.
Fielding questions yesterday from State House reporters after he met with President Muhammadu Buhari, the governor said no fewer than 2,000 military officers had been deployed in Katsina State along with some policemen to crush bandits terrorising the region.
The president also held a virtual meeting with 36 state governors of the federation on the escalating insecurity in different parts of the country.
The virtual meeting, according to the National Security Adviser (NSA), Major-General Babagana Monguno (rtd.), held on Tuesday after the Security Council meeting earlier presided over by the president.
However, the outcome of the meeting has not been made public at the time of filing this report.
Terrorist Groups displaced in Syria and Iraq
Meanwhile, the United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) has warned that the Islamic State and Al-Qaida terrorist groups were gradually taking over the West African region after being displaced in Syria and Iraq.
On the security situation in the North-west, Masari said those living in rural areas of Katsina State would attest to the fact that military action against the criminals was ongoing while those displaced were being taken care of.
He said: “Currently, the military is in Katsina for their annual super camp. So, over 2,000 of them are in Katsina in order to signal to the bandits that the military is ready and willing and have the capability and capacity to deal with the situation and the hope is that the military, including the police and other security agencies, have been given the marching order.
“I have seen some of the headlines of today’s papers; to control the situation, by all means, is a task that must be done because we cannot allow the situation in the North-west to develop as it has in the North-east. So, I think the people living in rural communities will testify that actions are ongoing and those that are being displaced are being well taken care of and so this is the situation,” he said.
Masari who said he was in the State House to pay Sallah homage to Buhari explained that the move became necessary because unlike the previous years when the president travelled down to Daura to mark Eid-el-Kabir, he could not make it this year because of COVID-19, and hence, it became compelling for him to bring the president greetings from the people of the state.
He explained that combating banditry in the region would be challenging this rainy season because the North-west and North-central regions are rough terrains and hence would be difficult to move military equipment across the forest this season.
However, he said notwithstanding the challenges, the battle against banditry would still be fought and won, adding that where there is a will, there is always a way.
“North-western part of the country where these bandits are and the North-central is a vast forest area and unfriendly terrain. So, essentially now, during the rainy season, moving with heavy military equipment can be very challenging because the soil is soft and the rains are heavy but it is doable.
“No situation is impossible, especially to a willing and determined mind. I do believe we can conquer these bandits and stop them from hibernating into something else,” he stated.
Asked how he hoped relative peace could be achieved in the region, Masari said one of the ways was the deployment of the military to take charge of the North-west while states and local governments would be expected to leverage on the outcome of the war against banditry to provide infrastructure and education.
He listed such infrastructure to include water supply and investment in agriculture and livestock production as well as fresh introduction of grazing areas in the region.
Masari said huge investments needed to be made in security to pave the way for access to the land already occupied by bandits, as a veritable resource for improved livelihood among residents.
He said: “I think, first of all, the aspect of non-kinetic measures – what we are waiting for is the military to take total control of the land areas. Then, state and local governments can now move in, especially in the area of education, then access, then water supply.
“Then, their means of livelihood, which mainly is agriculture and livestock and for us in Katsina, we have concluded all our designs but we cannot safely get access to where we can make reservations in terms of earth dams.
“We have already earmarked 30 areas, which we are going to reconstruct water systems that have broken down and some that are new in order to provide watering points but we cannot access the land as at today; and again, we are reintroducing the grazing areas and we have concluded plans.”
On food security, he said banditry had affected food security in some parts of Katsina State, notably in nine out of the 34 local government areas where villages are close to forests.