Jason Warner, assistant professor in the department of social sciences at the U.S. Military Academy, surveys this theater.
Dr. Jason Warner is an Assistant Professor at the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) where he also serves as the lead of Africa research in the Combating Terrorism Center (CTC). He is also a Term Member at the Council on Foreign Relations, and serves as an Adjunct Professor at American University’s School of Public Affairs. He is a specialist in African terrorism and security affairs, and African international relations and foreign policy. His current research focuses on the emergence and spread of the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda on the African continent; the tactics of violence that these groups use; and how non-African international states engage the continent, especially in security affairs. He holds a Ph.D. in African Studies from Harvard University.
Africa: The New Epicenter of Global Terrorism
As disaster unfolded in Afghanistan on the twenty-year anniversary of 9/11 earlier this year, another story has been quietly brewing over the last decade: Africa, not the Middle East or South Asia, is the new epicenter for global jihadist terror.
The ascendance of Africa as the theater most beset by jihadist reached a new apex during the summer. At its meeting in June, the Global Coalition to Defeat the Islamic State declared Africa its new priority region and called for global action to combat the group. In July, a UN report noted the “striking development” that Africa has taken center stage as the global region “most affected by terrorism” with the “largest numbers of casualties inflicted by groups designated by the UN.” Indeed, in the last decade alone, jihadist violence on the continent has increased 17-fold. 2020 saw 4,958 violent attacks perpetrated by African jihadist actors. These groups were responsible for 13,000 deaths in the same year.
One of the primary causes for the rise in violence is the implantation of the Islamic State in Africa. Beginning in 2014, African insurgent groups began pledging allegiance to the Islamic State Central — based in Iraq or Syria — to become its official African provinces. To date the Islamic State has six official provinces — two with multiple “wings” — that transverse the continent: in Libya, Algeria, Egypt, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Burkina Faso, Somalia, and newly, Mozambique and the Democratic Republic of Congo. While these provinces have sometimes received funding, fighters, and direction from IS Central, they have most typically undertaken violence to pursue local goals. Civilians have experienced unspeakable violence at the hands of such groups; states across the continent are increasingly unstable.
Violence undertaken by jihadist actors in Africa is currently at unprecedented new levels, with no signs of calming down. The global community must ensure that the wave of terrorism sweeping the continent does not go ignored.