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Security Brief: AFRICOM Week of March 14, 2022

Updated: Mar 30

Week of Monday, March 14, 2022 | Issue 6

Francesca Fiore and Natalie Weidenbach, AFRICOM Team

Jennifer Loy, Chief of Staff



Map of the Sahel[1]



Date: March 14, 2022

Location: Arbinda, Soum Province, Burkina Faso

Parties involved: Burkina Faso Armed Forces; Volunteers for the Defense of the Fatherland (VDP); Unknown armed men; Local civilians

The event: On Monday, March 14, unknown armed men attempted to sabotage a water drilling site in Arbinda. In an attempt to counter the attack, eight were killed, including four VDPs; at least three were injured. Eight people, including four VDPs, were killed and at least 3 were injured in attempts to counter the attackers. This is the fifth attack on regional water drilling sites in a week, bringing the total killed in three days to more than 30. The Sahel region has been characterized by increased jihadist violence following the withdrawal of French and international forces.[2]


Analysis & Implications:

  • It is very likely that this unknown armed group is working with al-Qaeda and ISIS’s expansionist strategy connected to the numerous attacks in the Sahel region. The French and international forces’ withdrawal from Mali has very likely created a power-vacuum in the region, now spilling over to neighboring countries. Counterterrorism specialists in the country are likely to counter this threat through the reinforcement of security measures on the country’s Northern Sahel border.

  • Since this attack is similar to others, it is very likely that the unknown armed group is based locally. This group is also likely to have ties to other jihadist armed groups such as al-Qaeda and ISIS. With their increasing influence and violence, it is likely they will create more alliances and relationships with local armed groups. This strategy would likely allow them to create an expanding network of contacts and resources within other countries.

  • The armed group very likely targeted the site to hamper the water supply in Arbinda and neighboring areas. This would almost certainly force local people into displacement, not being able to survive without access to water. Their displacement would almost certainly create a vacant territory in which local armed groups are very likely to settle territorial control. with their likely alliance with al-Qaeda and ISIS, as part of their strategy for regional expansion.


Date: March 14, 2022

Location: Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo

Parties involved: Allied Democratic Forces (ADF); Congolese military forces; local residents; ISIS; Ugandan military forces

The event: There has been an increase in violence, likely perpetrated by Islamist militants, in villages in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. Over five days, suspected rebels from the ADF killed more than 60 people. Attacks continue to occur despite Congo’s appointment of military officers in May 2021 and Uganda troops sent in December 2021. The recent attacks are a suspected retaliation for military campaigns and come after an ADF triple suicide bombing in Uganda’s capital city Kampala on November 16, for which the ISIS, to whom ADF pledged allegiance, claimed responsibility.[3]

Analysis & Implications:

  • Congolese military retaliation will very likely escalate the attacks from the ADF, almost certainly resulting in armed combat between the two forces. It is very likely more Ugandan troops will be sent to assist, which has a roughly even chance of escalating conflict involving multiple countries and actors. Conflict is likely to spread across the border to Uganda, likely bringing ADF attacks to local villages in the region, likely creating a humanitarian crisis almost certain to require the aid of regional organizations like the African Union.

  • It is very likely without government intervention in response to these attacks, violence will escalate and spread to other villages. Residents are almost certain to continue to be collateral and will likely flee the region for safety. Displaced Congolese are likely to seek refuge in surrounding countries like Uganda, which is likely to lead to settlements along the border.

  • There is a roughly even change the ISIS will claim responsibility for these most recent attacks It is likely attacks coordinated in the Democratic Republic of Congo are a part of the same strategy as the Kampala bombings, increasing the Islamist State’s influence in the region. As the ADF escalates their attacks and expands outside their current region, it is almost certain it will increase the territorial reach of the Islamist State and access to populations for recruitment.


Date: March 18, 2022

Location: Madrid, Spain

Parties involved: Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez; Moroccan King Mohamed VI; The Polisario Front; Moroccan Army

The event: On Friday March 18, Spain declared its support to Moroccan King Mohamed VI in having Western Sahara operate autonomously under Morocco’s rule. The Polisario Front independence movement, backed by Algeria, accused Spain of making a “grave error”[4] and expressed surprise over Spain’s change in stance towards Western Sahara. Late 2020 saw an end to decades of the cease-fire between Polisario forces and the Moroccan army and renewal of hostilities. Western Sahara contains vast phosphate deposits and rich fishing grounds in the Atlantic Ocean, and Morocco has maintained tight control on dissent in the region.[5]

Analysis & Implications:

  • The Polisario Front’s statement accusing Spain of making a “grave error” has a roughly even chance of being interpreted as a threat of force to the Moroccan army. Morocco is likely to increase military presence in the region, and it is very likely hostilities between the two forces will escalate to military action. Morocco will likely call on Spain to lend diplomatic and military support, creating a combined force that will likely assert an occupation over Western Sahara. In retaliation, this is very likely to increase dissent and recruitment into the Polisario Front’s forces.

  • Morocco likely wants to maintain control over Western Sahara due to its phosphate deposits (used to manufacture fertilizers) and fishing grounds. These resources are very likely to be part of the Polisario Front’s claim to territory, which is almost certain to result in a dispute over their control. It is very likely private corporations in phosphate deposits and fishing support Morocco’s claim, extending Morocco’s tactics in conflict over natural resources into the private sector.

  • The Polisario Front is likely to seek the support of Algeria to dispute Morocco’s decision over the independence of Western Sahara. Algeria is very likely to continue to back the Polisario Front forces, which is almost certain to increase hostility between Algeria and Morocco. There is a roughly even chance Morocco will increase their military presence on the shared border, likely provoking Algeria to respond with equal force.

________________________________________________________________________ The Counterterrorism Group (CTG)

[1] “Map of the Sahel”, by Munion, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported

[2] Burkina Faso: More than 30 killed in attack on town of Arbinda, Al Jazeera, March 2022, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2022/3/14/burkina-fasio-over-30-killed-in-armed-attack-in-town-of-arbinda

[3] Rebel attacks in eastern Congo kill more than 60, Reuters, March 2022, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/rebel-attacks-eastern-congo-kill-more-than-60-2022-03-15/

[4] Spain changes tune on Western Sahara, Africa News, March 2022, https://www.africanews.com/2022/03/19/spain-changes-tune-on-western-sahara

[5] Ibid

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