This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress is the 9th and final quarterly report on the East Africa Counterterrorism Operation and the North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operation. The purpose of these operations is to degrade or contain al-Qaeda, ISIS, their associated forces, and other violent extremist organizations (VEO) in designated regions of Africa. This report, which covers the period from July 1 through September 30, 2020, summarizes significant events related to these operations and describes ongoing and planned Lead IG and partner agency oversight work.
In 2019, the Secretary of Defense rescinded the overseas contingency operation designation for the two operations. As a result, Lead IG reporting responsibilities for this operation sunset at the end of Fiscal Year 2020. However, the Department of Defense (DoD) will continue to support counterterrorism operations in the Africa, and the DoD, Department of State (DoS), and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) Offices of Inspector General (OIG) will continue to conduct oversight of U.S. Government operations under their individual statutory authorities.
In East Africa, al-Shabaab attacks in Somalia continued during the quarter. U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) said that al-Shabaab “remains adaptive, resilient, and capable of attacking Western and partner interests in Somalia and East Africa.” The United States and the international community continued to train, advise, accompany, and equip Somali forces as they battled al-Shabaab. The Somali government, however, has not met milestones for the development of its security forces. The United States worked with the Somali government to revise plans to transition security responsibilities to Somali security forces.
In North Africa, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and ISIS-Libya did not conduct any known attacks this quarter. Both VEO are significantly degraded and currently pose no threat to the U.S. homeland, and a minimal threat to U.S. interests in the region. Ceasefires between the UN-backed Government of National Accord and the self-proclaimed Libyan National Army held during the quarter, and both parties participated in UN-sponsored peace talks. However, the presence of foreign fighters and dozens of local armed militias could jeopardize ongoing efforts to demilitarize the conflict and reach a sustainable political solution to the civil war.
In West Africa, VEOs were neither degraded nor contained during the quarter. Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) continued its expansion in Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger. In August, the U.S. Government suspended security assistance to the Malian government—a key counterterrorism partner in the region—following a coup by Malian army officers. Some intelligence sharing continued and many humanitarian assistance activities will likely continue. In September, following pressure by the DoS and international community, the Malian military leaders agreed to form a transitional government and hold democratic national elections within 18 months.
The U.S. Government will continue to face many challenges as it works to degrade and contain the evolving and dynamic VEO threats in Africa. In particular, the DoD said that it needs to remain postured to proactively identify these threats, determine their scope and scale, and respond appropriately, despite the challenges of USAFRICOM’s limited footprint on the continent. As the VEO threat cannot be addressed through military action alone, the U.S. Government will need to effectively leverage and coordinate the diplomatic, humanitarian, and development capabilities of multiple agencies to address the underlying drivers of extremism, including poor governance, humanitarian crises, and lack of economic opportunity.
Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies—the DoD, the DoS, and USAID OIGs—to work together to develop and carry out joint, comprehensive, and strategic oversight. Each Inspector General retains statutory independence, but together they apply their extensive regional experience and in-depth institutional knowledge to conduct whole-of-government oversight of this overseas contingency operation.