Michael Shurkin, “Strengthening Sahelian Counterinsurgency Strategy,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies. Two excerpts:
Two basic types of mobile units offer strong potential: a mobile strike force, comprised of technicals, and an airborne or airmobile rapid reaction force. The former would, at least, also have some artillery capabilities. Sahelian militaries today have mortars and other low-cost, lightweight direct and indirect fire platforms, but they do not have them in sufficient quantities. Furthermore, truly integrating these platforms in combined-arms fashion is a challenge for all armies, requiring hours of training and preparation and thus resources. Sahelian armies also have towed artillery, but their utility considering the logistical requirements is questionable.
Sahelian governments need a clear strategy and doctrine for their force structures to effectively address their security threats. A useful first step would be to embrace the paradigm of counterinsurgency. This translates into a strategy that pairs combat operations with a population-centric approach that is intended to strengthen relations with local populations and recast the social contract. It requires a force that has built-in elements to work with local communities, to provide justice and law enforcement for them, and to police the military. Absent this, an approach focused purely on combat operations is destined to fail. Sahelian forces simply cannot kill enough insurgents to prevail, and their attempts to do so have been counterproductive. A COIN force should offer, at the very least, the advantage of not preying upon civilians and, at most, sustained pressure on insurgent groups coupled with protection for communities.
Shurkin does a very thorough job here. I think COIN is fundamentally a contradiction in terms, though, whether in Afghanistan, Iraq, or the Sahel. Militaries are for killing, no matter how “population-centric” the approach.
Nina Wilén, “The impact of security force assistance in Niger: meddling with borders,” International Affairs (open access). Two key paragraphs:
Lightly equipped units which are traditionally deployed in urban areas are at an increased risk of attack in more rural zones and lack the capabilities to respond to armed groups. This in turn drives the request for more robust equipment. These trends are reinforced by the Nigerien authorities’ desire for more equipment and assistance, especially combat-related support or equipment, which can be used to fight insurgents and extremist groups. In addition, jealousy between and within units regarding new, donor-supplied equipment is promoting a certain militarization of internal security forces. The mobile hybrid companies, for example, have become ‘elite’ units within their own corps, provoking jealousy from other units who covet their more robust (and modern) equipment and training, similar to that provided to the units discussed above.
Yet, as Frowd and Sandor point out, external actors in the Sahel seek to avoid the very appearance of militarization, often attempting to constrain it by accompanying assistance leaning towards martial training with managerial practices which emphasize the legitimacy of civilian and bureaucratic control. In Niger, as in other states in the region, the training of these new mobile border units has, for example, been accompanied by a heavy focus on courses of judiciarisation, understood as training the security forces in the law of conflict, in battlefield evidence, and in how to correctly conduct arrests and fill out documents so that the legal system can take over the process. This is considered crucial to improve the rule of law in the country: interviewees explained that, before these courses were introduced, security forces did not document what happened in the field, they just caught the perpetrators—or at worst killed them—without collecting any evidence for the justice system to take over. Different roles and relations, in combination with human rights abuses, also contribute to inter-agency tensions: ‘the gendarmerie should normally control the army when they are deployed together, but since the army commit human rights abuses, they [the gendarmerie] are not welcome’.
Adam Sandor (cited in the paragraph above) weighs in with a brief thread here.
These first two papers (Shurkin and Wilén) make for an interesting pairing, obviously.
Laura Berlingozzi, “O sister, where art thou? Assessing the limits of gender mainstreaming in preventing and countering violent extremism in Mali,” Critical Studies on Terrorism. The abstract:
Where and how are women present in preventing and countering violent extremism (P/CVE) in Mali? The article contributes to the scholarship on gender in P/CVE policies by shedding light on the misalignments between societal dynamics and the discursive framework adopted in the security strategies implemented. It investigates how the European Union as a security-oriented actor, (re)produces practices of exclusion rather than inclusion. Relying on a large set of semi-structured interviews gathered during extensive fieldwork, it aims at understanding the conceptualisation – and the gaps therein – of gender mainstreaming by asking: how does the EU translate gender mainstreaming and WPS into practice in the context of P/CVE practice? And, in turn, how do local actors perceive these efforts? The article finds that the implementation of gender mainstreaming has two main sets of limitations which overall reinforce inequalities: first, it homogenises women’s identities and fails at meaningfully reaching rural areas; second, while including some gender considerations about restrictions of women’s agency, it falls short of achieving its overarching aim, which should be truly empowering women by subverting patriarchal structures and systems of inequal power-sharing. In doing so, this study intends to contribute to feminist security studies literature by exploring centre-periphery gaps and differences in the framing of women’s empowerment within P/CVE.
James Courtright, “In Ghana, local problems threaten regional security,” Institute of Current World Affairs. The piece focuses on Ghana, obviously, but it’s also highly relevant to the Sahel. It deals in particular with the stigmatization of the Peul/Fulani group in Ghana and region-wide:
Across the country, Fulani have increasingly become stereotyped as poor, violent and foreign. I saw that firsthand in casual conversations in the national capital, Accra. When I told a taxi driver I was in Ghana to spend time in Fulani communities, he replied that there is no such thing as a “Ghanaian Fulani” and that they are all actually Burkinabe (from Burkina Faso). Another person with whom I struck up a conversation in a bar warned me in hushed tones to be careful because all Fulani were bandits and kidnappers.
The stereotyping has deadly consequences. This year alone, there have been three documented cases of civilians attacking and killing Fulani in the aftermath of armed robberies. In late May, a mob killed a Fulani man following the armed robbery of a fuel station in Kabori near the border with Burkina Faso. A few weeks later, Seydu Jallo, mentioned at the beginning of this piece, was murdered in Tamale. However, the deadliest of these incidents occurred in early April, when around a dozen people attacked the small village of Zakoli around 60 miles east of Tamale and killed eight people and burned the houses to the ground.
There is nothing inevitable about the spread of insurgency into Ghana, Togo, Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Senegal, etc. The key independent variable to my mind is not how cunning the jihadists are but rather how the authorities react, and how they treat civilians, in the early stages of a potential insurgency.