The United States said progress has been made in combating terrorism across Africa, but that militant groups are still taking advantage of unrest, political instability, and weak governance in several areas of the continent.
In an annual report to the U.S. Congress, the State Department said Thursday that counterterrorism efforts by U.S., European, and regional forces have “done much to roll back and contain the threat” of terrorism in Africa over the past year.
But it said a series of revolutions, ethnic rebellions and military coups in the region have “complicated the terrorism picture” and presented militant groups with new opportunities to operate in the region.
In Libya, it said terrorists were able to exploit the security vacuum, weak governance, and abundance of weapons left in the wake of the country’s 2011 revolution, which overthrew longtime leader Moammar Gadhafi. One of the most notable terrorist attacks in Libya came in September, when the U.S. ambassador to Libya and three other Americans were killed during an attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi.
The report noted that Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), an Islamist group with expanding capabilities, took advantage of regional instability, stepping up its profitable kidnapping for ransom operations and other attacks in the trans-Sahara region.
It said that AQIM, as well as extremist mercenaries returning from Libya, also profited from a military coup and separate rebellion by ethnic Tuaregs in Mali to overtake much of the northern part of that country. That Islamist insurgency was later quelled by a French-led military force, which was praised by the State Department report for quickly dealing with the threat.
In West Africa, the report said the Nigerian Islamist group Boko Haram was carrying out a rising number of increasingly sophisticated attacks. While most of the group’s attacks have occurred in northern Nigeria, the report said there is evidence that Boko Haram may be “developing financial and training links with transnational violent extremists.”
Somali insurgent group al-Shabab remains the State Department’s “primary terrorist threat” in East Africa. The report said al-Shabab continues to carry out attacks in Somalia, and claims credit for some attacks in neighboring Kenya.
African Union and Somali forces, the State Department noted, have had some success in taking out al-Shabab strongholds in major cities in southern Somalia. It said the insurgent group has now been “fragmented by dissension and much weakened.”