Al-Qaeda Sees Its Chance in West Africa, and Takes It

The overthrow of former Libyan President Muammar Ghaddafi has seen a rise in Islamic extremism spread throughout West Africa — and with it, an increasing unwillingness on the part of the international community to confront just how far Al-Qaeda's tentacles have reached. It started with the Benghazi attack that was committed by an Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb affiliate, Ansar al-Shariah. After the Libyan revolution, weapons were smuggled into Mali in order to fuel the Tuareg rebellion, which quickly helped AQIM and Ansar al-Dine gain control of the north of the country.

The actions of Ansar al-Dine led to a French-led offensive in order to oust Al-Qaeda and other extremist groups from the country and reestablish security. This operation has been generally successful and Malian troops recently reestablished their presence within the north of the country. While it is true that Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have been dispelled from Mali, they are far from gone.

Amidst the French offensive, logistical support was given by the United States in the form of supplies and drone support. In order to do this the United States government had established a drone base within neighboring Niger as a base of operations. This fact has become common knowledge with AQIM and has not been forgotten. Once the French offensive began, members of AQIM and its affiliates crossed the border into neighboring countries such as Cameroon and Niger. 

Their presence in these countries had been subtle up until recently, but it appears that AQIM has left Mali only to establish camp in neighboring Niger. The extremists committed a series of suicide attacks at the military base in Agadez as well as a uranium enrichment plant in Arlit. To make the security situation worse, extremists led an attack upon a Nigeran jail that has resulted in some of the country's most dangerous inmates going free. The attacks have been jointly claimed by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, an AQIM affiliate, as well as a group known as "Those Who Sign In Blood," run by Mokhtar Belmokhtar who was responsible for the attack on an Algerian gas plant earlier this year. 

Niger, with its extremely porous borders and spot at the bottom of the UN's Human Development Index, is in no position to be able to expel the extremists. Niger is currently dealing with refugees from Mali as well as refugees from Nigeria's offensive against the extremist group Boko Haram. The United Nations is an option to deal with the country's refugee problem, yet it may not be a productive one. 

The recent Islamist uprisings throughout West Africa have shown the dangers of failed states. Failed states are notorious for having porous borders, which have allowed global organizations such as Al-Qaeda to enjoy freedom of movement as well as the ability to fund and supply themselves and their affiliates. Recent revelations from Mali's Timbuktu library have shown how AQIM has utilized the opportunities globalization has given them in order to spread their ideas worldwide.

The world is continuing to make the same mistakes over and over again in the War on Terror. Al-Qaeda is an organization that is not tied to a piece of land. They can and have established themselves in many places throughout the world. The message of Al-Qaeda does not stop at a border but rather can influence people in Afghanistan, Nigeria, or even Spain. If the world is going to stop the substantial spread of terrorism than it must realize this fact. 

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Joseph Hughes

I currently live in Washington DC where I study International Relations with an emphasis in Peace and Justice Studies. In addition to this I interned for the House Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations where I conducted research that pertained to Congressional Hearings.

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