The ambush on US troops in Niger two weeks ago was reportedly executed by a group calling itself Islamic State in the Greater Sahara. The assault involved 40-50 extremists in vehicles and on motorcycles, firing rocket-propelled grenades and heavy machine guns.
Marine Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, the director of the Joint Staff, said last week that US troops had conducted 29 similar patrols in the area during the last six months without any enemy contact. Bolder attacks like this are becoming more common across Africa as extremist groups affiliated with ISIS feel the pressure from their losses in Syria and Iraq.
Al-Shabaab, the group responsible for the massive car bomb attack in Mogadishu on Saturday that killed 300, is the country’s most dangerous extremist group with an estimated 7,000-9,000 fighters. The attack in the busy capital of Somalia is the first in the country since February.
ISIS cells have also been increasingly active in Morocco. Moroccan police made a huge arrest Saturday of 11 terror suspects linked to ISIS. Authorities seized chemical products used to make bombs, firearms, knives, gas canisters, and a car carrying “suspicious material.”
On Sunday afternoon, an estimated 40 Sinai Province militants raided the Karam Al-Qawadis checkpoint, claiming to kill 40 military personnel and seizing several weapons. Israeli Defense Forces said two rockets were fired at southern Israel coming from Sinai, “likely by an affiliate of the Islamic State terrorist group.”
Meanwhile, Estonian Interior Minister Andres Anvelt, whose country holds the six-month EU presidency, is estimating that hundreds, if not thousands of ISIS fighters are now in North Africa.
Though US forces were taken by surprise in Niger, Washington has already revealed its growing concern over radicalization in Africa. The recent attack has reminded us of the increasing US troop presence on the continent and a counterterrorism strategy leaning heavily on US special forces.
The Department of Defense will be conducting an investigation into the high profile incident to answer questions about preparedness and lack of accurate intelligence. Growing concern in Congress over lack of transparency regarding the broadening of the mission in Africa means the issue won’t slip back under the radar anytime soon.