West Africa on Fire

West Africa on Fire

The French launched Operation Serval in early January 2013 to aid the Malian government combat the Islamic insurgency plaguing the West African nation. With the influx of weapons from the Libyan Civil War, Tuareg tribesman sparked a rebellion against the Malian government, proclaiming independence of the north Mali territory of Azawad. In June 2012 the Tuareg rebellion came into conflict with radical Islamic groups trying to impose sharia law in the province. The Tuareg fighters were eventually pushed out of Azawad by the Islamists, and the territory became a safe-haven for Islamic terrorists in West Africa. The Mali government launched an offensive against the Islamic insurgents, but lacked the strength to defeat them. Requesting aid and military support from France (a former colonial overseer of Mali), the French deployed 4,000 soldiers and air assets to support combat operations.

Operation Serval lasted from January 2013 until 15 July 2014, with the French-Mali coalition retaking all major cities in Azawad from the Islamists. The French followed on the success of Operation Serval with Operation Barkhane. The follow-on operation is a multi-national effort to target Islamic terrorists in Africa’s Sahel region, with current military focus on: Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. The Islamists have been pushed on the defensive, although with the current crisis in Nigeria (bordering the Sahel) with Boko Haram, army and fighters continue to flood into the region.

Boko Haram was founded in 2002. The organizations radicalization occurred following the 2009 Boko Haram uprising, when its founder and leader Mohammed Yusuf, was executed by government forces. The organization turned to terrorism, and has unleashed devastation throughout northern Nigeria. Since May 2013 over 2 million Nigerians have been displaced by the fighting, with 250,000 refugees seeking asylum in Cameroon, Chad, and Niger. A Boko Haram terror attack has killed over 6,600 and has led to the Nigerian government declaring a state of emergency.

Boko Haram has made significant territorial gains in the state of Borno, capturing over 20,000 square miles by January 2015. Nigeria assembled a coalition of West African forces: Chad, Cameroon, and Niger to retake the lost territory.  The West African Offensive was launched in late January 2015. By March, the coalition had seized the Northern Nigerian towns of Bama and Gwoza, driving Boko Haram fighters into the Mandara Mountains along the Nigeria-Cameroon border. In September 2015 the Defense Headquarters of Nigeria announced all Boko Haram camps had been destroyed. Despite the government claim, on 20 September a series of bombings rocked the towns of Maiduguri and Monguno, killing 145 people and injuring 97 others. Boko Haram remains a real threat in Nigeria and West Africa.

Look for more information regarding Boko Haram in the future Modern War issue #22 with the article “Boko Haram: Nigeria’s Jihadist Insurgency” and join the conversation on Facebook!

About The Author

Kyle is a Military Historian and Managing Editor at Strategy & Tactics Press. A fourth-generation combat Veteran, Kyle retired from the United States Army in 2010. He specializes in military operations from 1945-Present and has written extensively regarding the future of asymmetrical warfare.

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