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ISIS And Al-Qaeda’s Sub-Saharan Affiliates Are Poised For Growth In 2021

Forces Armées Tchadiennes soldiers conduct marksmanship training alongside their Sénégalese instructors during Flintlock 20 on the outskirts of Kaedi, Mauritania, Feb. 20, 2020. Units from each of the 15 African militaries participating in Flintlock build upon the previous day’s training, which contributes to an increasingly complex scenario and sharpening their skills for the fight against extremism.
(Image: U.S. Army photo Sgt. 1st Class Caleb Barrieau)

Once considered a backwater for jihadists, sub-Saharan Africa is now at the forefront of the counterterrorism landscape. With core ISIS and al-Qaeda reeling from sustained Western counterterrorism campaigns, attention has shifted from former jihadist bases in the Middle East and south Asia, respectively, to the Sahel and Nigeria, the Horn of Africa, and, most recently, the continent’s southeastern Swahili coast. ISIS and al-Qaeda affiliates throughout sub-Saharan Africa are well-positioned to expand their influence, garner new recruits, spread propaganda, and in some cases, capture territory.

As weak states give way to weak regions, overmatched security forces are being upstaged by well-armed jihadists capable of mounting complex and coordinated operations that increasingly resemble those of core ISIS and al-Qaeda themselves. These terrorists have taken advantage of porous borders throughout Africa and, in opportunistic fashion, have capitalized on fraught political transitions and lack of security sector accountability in countries like Mali and Mozambique, working to further destabilize already fragile states.

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