Leader Development & Education for Sustained Peace Program: Cross-Cultural, Geopolitical & Regional Education

Scholarly Spotlight: “Al Qaeda & the Arc of Instability”

AFRICOM update - Scholarly Spotlight - January 2013

In our Scholarly Spotlight feature, we post interesting reports or studies related to a certain region and also provide a forum for our users to discuss the ideas within these features. This excellent report, presented by the Allied Command Operations Civil Military Fusion Centre, discusses the growing role of al Qaeda across north Africa and its links with militant groups in other parts of the continent including Nigeria, Mali, Somalia and also Yemen resulting in what is referred to as the “Arc of Instability” in Africa. Related information is available at www.cimicweb.org.

“Jihadists and other militants thrive in power vacuums, especially in areas where there are large numbers of accessible weapons, such as in Libya, Mali and Syria. In North Africa, militant Muslims and Islamists have taken advantage of recent upheavals thereby thriving and growing in influence, creating what is now being referred to as an “Arc of Instability” that stretches from the coast of West Africa across the Sahel region into the Horn of Africa. On the African continent, ties between radical groups Boko Haram, al Shabaab, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and its offshoots the Unity Movement for Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO) and Ansar Dine are becoming stronger; as are ties with al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in Yemen. This report will provide a brief overview of each of the militant groups, followed by information on their sources of funding, methods of recruit- ment, cooperation, and international and regional counter-terrorist activities.”

In addition to the CIMIC report, Army General Carter F. Ham, commander of USAFRICOM, recently reiterated these sentiments to an audience at George Washington University:

“Extremist groups collaborating in Africa pose a threat beyond the region that extends to Europe and the United States, U.S. Africa Command’s top military officer. Countering violent extremists is a growing challenge for Africom, Army General Ham told an audience  in early December. The al-Qaida affiliated terror group al-Shabab is active in Somalia, though it is being dealt with, Ham said, and lawlessness in Libya is attracting another terror group, al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb. That group continues to operate in northern Mali, which Ham calls a ‘haven’ for terrorists. In Nigeria, the militant group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks in recent months. Ham emphasized that these groups and others signal the importance of Africa Command in countering extremists on the continent. But although those individual organizations are ‘dangerous and important,’ Ham said, his biggest worry is a growing linkage and network of collaboration and synchronization among them. That, he added, ‘poses the greatest threat to regional stability more broadly across Africa, into Europe and the United States as well.’ Africom stood up Oct. 1, 2008, and is the newest geographic command. Ham said the command’s mission is to advance the national security interests of the United States in Africa. “We think we do that best by strengthening the defense capabilities of African nations so they are increasingly capable of providing not only for their own security, but contributing to regional security and stability as well,” he said. Africa Command has taken direct action on the continent, as demonstrated last year by the U.S. effort in the skies over Libya to protect civilians there from forces loyal to Mummar Gaddafi. ‘But we think we are at our best when we are supporting and enabling African nations and African regional organizations to achieve their ends,’ the general added.” (DefenceWeb)

Discussion questions: Do you agree with the idea of the “Arc of Instability” in Africa?

What are some strategic methods for addressing these concerns?

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