Militant groups linked to Daesh and al Qaida in West Africa “are neither degraded nor contained,” new report warns as US considers cutting troops on the continent to counter China and Russia elsewhere in the world.

In this November 21, 2015 file photo, soldiers from the presidential guard patrol outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako after it was attacked by militants armed with guns and grenades.
In this November 21, 2015 file photo, soldiers from the presidential guard patrol outside the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako after it was attacked by militants armed with guns and grenades. (AP)

The US military has switched from trying to degrade militant groups in West Africa’s sprawling Sahel region to merely trying to contain them as their deadly threat increases, a new US government report says.

The quarterly report by the inspectors general for the Pentagon, State Department and USAID released this week is the first to be unclassified as interest surges in the US military’s activities in Africa. Security allies are worried as the US considers cutting troops on the continent to counter China and Russia elsewhere in the world.

Top concerns in Africa include the fast-growing threat from multiple militant groups in the Sahel region just south of the Sahara Desert and the enduring threat by the al Qaeda-linked al Shabab in Somalia, which killed three Americans in an unprecedented attack against US forces in Kenya last month.

'Mowing the lawn'

Consistent pressure on militant groups is needed to weaken them, the report says, citing Defense Secretary Mark Esper, who has compared it to “mowing the lawn.” That need, along with the often slow development of local partners' militaries, “could require ongoing commitment of US military resources," the report adds.

The new report also says the US Africa Command has expressed concerns to the Pentagon's inspector general that some resources will be moved from Somalia to the North African nation of Libya, where a conflict between rival governments has drawn the attention of powers including Russia and Turkey.

About 6,000 US military personnel are deployed across Africa, the report says, including 500 special operations forces in Somalia and about 800 personnel in West Africa.

The security situation in Burkina Faso “is deteriorating faster than anywhere else in the Sahel,” says the new report, citing AFRICOM. 

The West African nation is staggering under a growing number of militant attacks as fighters move in from neighbouring Mali. Hundreds of civilians have been killed and hundreds of thousands have fled.

Militant groups linked to Daesh group and al Qaida in West Africa “are neither degraded nor contained,” the new report warns, citing AFRICOM.

The new US military strategy has changed from trying to degrade, or reduce the effectiveness, of those militant groups in the Sahel to trying to keep them from growing their membership and spreading into new areas, AFRICOM told the Pentagon inspector general in the quarter ending December 31.

Mali’s president this week told French media outlets his government is now in contact with leaders of the most active militant group, the al Qaida-linked JNIM, a sign that troubled West African countries are exploring various options, including negotiations, to curb the threat.

JNIM has about 1,000 to 2,000 fighters and its goal is to “unite all terrorist groups in the Sahel and eliminate Western influence in the region,” the new US report says.

The US military in the Sahel largely supports the militaries of France and local countries in their fight against the militants.

France recently announced it would increase its troop presence there to more than 5,000 and has started arming its drones, while French leaders have urged the US against cutting its military presence.

Source: AP