Photo: Thomas M. Sanderson / CSIS

Militancy and the Arc of Instability

Violent extremist organizations (VEOs) in the Sahel are in a period of flux, whether they are under sustained pressure from the French-led military operation in Mali, or weakened by tactical differences, and petty rivalries. Groups have fragmented and reconstituted under the burden of senior leader assassinations and supply lines disruptions. Despite all of these pressures, Sahelian terrorist groups will continue to plague the region unless the underlying conditions for their existence are addressed—and there is no sign that they will be. These conditions include chronic underdevelopment, political alienation at a national and local level, poor governance, and the destabilizing effects of climate change upon societies already living under immense strain.

Furthermore, regional governments do not possess security forces with the capacity to effectively confront these armed groups, nor the intelligence and forensic capacities to identify and interdict sources of financial and materiel support. Despite successful efforts by the Nigerian Armed Forces to dislodge Boko Haram from its urban bases in the north, the army is unprepared to decisively handle Boko Haram’s insurgent nature and to prevent the group’s hit and run attacks.

To enhance policymakers’ understanding of the VEOs operating in the Sahel, the sociopolitical and security environment that they seek to exploit, and to explore responses to them, CSIS’s Africa Program and Transnational Threats Project have studied the broad tapestry of political, societal, demographic, and economic pressures that affect the capabilities and evolution of VEOs in the African Sahel.

Project staff researched violent extremist groups across the Sahel region in three components. The first component examined the VEO landscape and the areas in which they operate. The second component examined the context in which Sahelian and other African VEOs operate, including analysis of relevant political, social, economic, and security trends, recruitment patterns and relationships between various extremist groups. Finally, the project team’s research considered policy options for regional, state, and international actors. The project—due to be released in August 2016—will offer recommendations to diminish the underlying causes of extremism, VEO influence and their reach, and overall threat to U.S. and partner nation interests.

CSIS will put forth these findings and analysis through a combination of briefings and multimedia products that will highlight VEO connections to other regions of the world, transnational phenomena (social media and crime), and will provide observations concerning the future militant environment.