HomeWorldAs Russia Looms, US Seeks Influence in West Africa's Fight Against Islamists

As Russia Looms, US Seeks Influence in West Africa’s Fight Against Islamists

DABOYA, Ghana, March 15 (Reuters) – US commanders leading annual anti-terror exercises in West Africa have urged coastal countries to rely on each other to contain a sprawling Islamic insurgency, rather than non-Western powers, after that Mali hired Russian forces last year. mercenaries

Relations between Russia and the US have turned more hostile since Moscow invaded Ukraine more than a year ago, and Washington and its allies oppose Russian influence in West Africa.

During drills this month in northern Ghana, trainers urged troops to share phone numbers with their foreign counterparts operating on poorly marked borders, often just a few miles away. Elsewhere, soldiers have also learned to use motorcycles, as insurgents do, for their speed and maneuverability.

Overrun by Islamist groups, and in the midst of a dispute with former colonial power France, Mali’s military government last year hired Russian private military contractor Wagner Group, whose fighters are playing a key role in Ukraine, to combat the militants. . This has worried Western governments and the United Nations, who say the move has led to a spike of violence.

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Mali, whose government seized power in a 2021 military coup, previously said Russian forces are not mercenaries but trainers helping local troops with equipment from Russia.

“You have governments with so many problems that they start to reach out to other bad actors who maybe exploit more of the resources in those countries,” Col. Robert Zyla of the US Special Operations Command in Africa (SOCAF) told Reuters on exercises in Ghana.

“Contrast that with what we’re trying to bring, which is partnerships between neighbors and other democratic nations.”

In this month’s exercises, soldiers patrolled barren scrub dotted with spindly shrubs. At the heart of the strategy is engaging border communities and making sure militaries work together in a region where borders stretch across hundreds of miles of sparsely populated desert.

“No country can figure this out on its own,” Zyla said. “In the future, it will be about teaching the countries of the region how to cross borders and speak.”


For a decade, offensive efforts have failed to stop an Islamist insurgency that has killed thousands and displaced millions. Security experts say it could get worse after thousands of French troops were expelled from Mali and Burkina Faso by military juntas earlier this year.

The main challenge is a lack of resources and a large-scale international commitment to defense in one of the poorest parts of the world, the experts said.

Ghana has reinforced troops in its northern regions. But it does not have reconnaissance drones to monitor border areas, said Col. Richard Kainyi Mensah, chief of operations for Ghana’s special operations brigade.

“Logistics and equipment are key,” he said. “Resources are limited.”

It is not clear what more resources the United States and Europe are willing to give. The United States has been reluctant to participate after four soldiers were killed in Niger in 2017. The United Kingdom, Germany and other nations are withdrawing troops from a United Nations peacekeeping mission in Mali as security worsens. .

Earlier this month, General Michael Langley, commander of the US Africa Command, told reporters that “stabilization and security” were his focus in Africa, without providing details.

Some believe that not enough is being done.

“There is a lot of hesitancy to implement more than we need to,” said Aneliese Bernard, director of Strategic Stabilization Advisors, a US-based risk advisory group. “The irony is that that means we are basically putting a Band-Aid on an amputated limb.”

The timing is crucial, security experts and military officials said. Islamist violence that began in 2012 in Mali has spread. The armed groups have a foothold in coastal countries, including Benin and Togo, and threaten the economic leaders of the Ivory Coast and Ghana.

Reporting by Cooper Inveen in Daboya and Edward McAllister in Dakar; Written by Edward McAllister; Edited by Cynthia Osterman

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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