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Security Brief: EUCOM, AFRICOM, and EMH2, Week of January 17, 2022

Week of Monday, January 17, 2022 | Issue 1

Martyna Dobrowolska, Federica Calissano, Pètra van de Gevel, EUCOM Team; Faye Lax, AFRICOM Team; Alyssa Schmidt, Benjamin Maher, Emergency Management, Health, and Hazards (EMH2) Team

World Health Organization Logo[1]


Date: January 18, 2022

Location: World Health Organization (WHO) Headquarters, Geneva, Switzerland

Parties involved: WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus; WHO; EU; African countries

The event: During a press conference, the Director-General of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, announced that the COVID-19 pandemic is “nowhere near being over.”[2] He also warned that new variants are very likely to continue emerging after Omicron. The WHO urged countries worldwide to continue adopting public health measures, such as social distancing and face masking. The warning comes after several countries suggest treating COVID-19 as a cold or flu virus.[3]

Analysis & Implications:

  • The EU will very likely continue adopting and extending public health measures, as the WHO urged countries worldwide to do so. Consequently, the EU will almost certainly continue to implement vaccine campaigns, likely raising people’s awareness of the importance of COVID-19 vaccination. This will likely increase vaccination rates and protection against new variants. The vaccine campaigns will likely focus on the dangers of COVID-19 vaccine misinformation, likely resulting in people questioning the credibility of news sources and collecting information from public health organizations instead, such as the WHO.

  • The continued implementation of protective protocols will likely lead to resistance and protests from those opposing the protocols, likely impacting the safety of emergency personnel. Protests are likely to become violent, likely injuring individuals involved and damaging property. These events will likely have media coverage, further increasing public resistance and cases.

  • Countries with low vaccination rates are likely to be more severely affected by the new variants as they still struggle to combat earlier variants. As the WHO encourages countries to adopt health measures, they likely need to urge the countries with limited resources to prioritize this warning and take precautions.

Date: January 19, 2022

Location: Palermo, Italy

Parties involved: Italian law enforcement; Nigerian mafia group Black Axe; European countries; Victims of sex trafficking; Nigerian traffickers; Nigerian women; Italian mafia groups; Italian government; Italian population; Organized crime groups; Foreign mafia groups; Terrorist groups; Religious leaders

The event: Four Black Axe Nigerian mafia group members were arrested in Italy after a sex trafficking survivor reported them to Italian law enforcement. The Black Axe is a Nigerian cult-like criminal group operating in many regions in Italy. The group bonds victims to their traffickers through oath-taking ceremonies that involve complicated rituals, such as the use of the victim's blood, hair, and clothing, and blackmails the victims into prostitution. The misuse of religious and cultural beliefs is an effective mechanism used by Nigerian traffickers to recruit Nigerian women routed for the sex trade in Europe.[4]

Analysis & Implications:

  • As Italy will very likely continue to grow as a European point for human and drug trafficking, Nigerian mafia groups will very likely become powerful organized crime groups, and likely establish their centers of operations in other European countries. Consequently, Italian mafia groups, such as La Cosa Nostra, Camorra, and 'Ndrangheta, will likely start competing for power with the Black Axe group as Italian mafia groups almost certainly want to remain dominant in their country. The competition between mafia groups will likely pose a national security risk for Italy.

  • The arrest of the Black Axe mafia members will very likely decrease the physical harm that occurred to their victims due to sex-trafficking operations. The mental health of the victims was almost certainly negatively impacted by the actions of these groups, making them very likely to feel isolated and vulnerable. The isolation will likely make them more susceptible to radicalization by terrorist groups.

  • The Black Axe group is very likely to successfully control their victims by blackmailing them to pay off their debts through trafficking and pandering. The group is likely exploiting vulnerabilities, such as poverty, knowing their victims will likely not have other means to pay off their debts. Threatening the victims’ families very likely is an effective tool to manipulate and control them. Additionally, the bond created during the oath-taking ceremony very likely makes victims feel reliant on their traffickers.

  • There is a roughly even chance that the Black Axe mafia group controls some religious and spiritual leaders in Nigeria, likely through blackmail. Utilizing religious leaders will likely help legitimize the group’s involvement and the abuse of Nigeria’s religious systems and rituals. More Nigerian women will very likely follow the group if the group utilizes religious leaders, likely leading to their exploitation.

Date: January 19, 2022

Location: Ouahigouya, Burkina Faso

Parties involved: French soldiers from the Operation Barkhane taskforce; French President Emmanuel Macron; Al-Qaeda militants; Islamic State group; Burkina Faso’s local forces; French task forces

The event: Four French soldiers from the Operation Barkhane taskforce, Frances' deployment in the Sahel against a jihadist insurgency, were injured by an improvised explosive device (IED) in Burkina Faso. The country has been struggling with militants linked to Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State (ISIS) group since 2015. In 2021, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a scale back in the Barkhane mission to refocus on supporting local forces.[5]

Analysis & Implications:

  • If France continues to decrease its military presence in the region, terrorist groups such as Al-Qaeda and ISIS will likely gain a stronger foothold in Burkina Faso. French soldiers will very likely continue to be targeted by terrorist groups as they seek to make tactical gains. Targeting French soldiers also likely benefits terrorist groups strategically as they very likely aim to undermine France’s influence in the region.

  • The attack on French soldiers could likely hasten President Macron’s decision to refocus the mission on supporting local forces. French task forces will very likely provide Burkina Faso with logistic and military knowledge that local forces could likely implement in a counterterrorism strategy. The latter will very likely guide Burkina Faso in implementing adequate approaches to fight the terrorist presence within the country.

  • The risk of targeted attacks against French forces will likely increase as terrorist groups will likely attempt to exacerbate worsening conditions for French soldiers to hasten their withdrawal. French deployments will likely need to support local infrastructure to maintain emergency management capabilities. If local security forces are given full responsibility and French soldiers pull out quickly, local infrastructure will very likely be unable to support critical missions. Operational infrastructure is at risk as terrorist groups are very likely to target infrastructure maintained by local forces in an attempt to disrupt counterinsurgency efforts.

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[1]World Health Organization Logo” by Rnh-co2 molecular respiration licensed under Creative Commons

[2] Pandemic is 'nowhere near over', World Health Organization warns, Euronews, January 2022, https://www.euronews.com/2022/01/18/pandemic-is-nowhere-near-over-world-health-organization-warns

[3] Ibid

[4] Italian police arrest alleged Black Axe Nigerian mafia members over trafficking, The Guardian, January 2022, https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2022/jan/19/italian-police-arrest-alleged-black-axe-nigerian-mafia-members-over-trafficking

[5] Four French soldiers injured in Burkina Faso bomb blast, says army, France 24, January 2022, https://www.france24.com/en/africa/20220119-four-french-soldiers-injured-in-burkina-faso-bomb-blast-says-army




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