US, West African nations to begin counterterror exercises

Photo: Ruth Maclean/The Guardian

The US-led ‘West Africa Joint Operations’ (WAJO) counterterrorism exercises will begin today.

Counterterrorism investigators from Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger’s will participate in the drill designed to develop regional cooperation between military, intelligence and judicial institutions in combatting extremism. Additionally, each participating unit will attend the drills virtually. The drills come at a crucial time of intensifying extremist violence in the Sahel—three attacks have killed 150 civilians in the unstable tri-border region of Tillaberi since January. The UN Security Council, African Union and regional Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) have all called for immediate action to end violence.

Expect today’s exercises to serve to restart regional inter-agency communication in military-based counterterrorism initiatives. Specifically, continued WAJO drills will likely lead to medium- to long-term increases in gathering intelligence, information sharing and ensuring counterterror activities abide by local laws. Nevertheless, short-term reductions in violence are unlikely to result from increased drills as the region still lacks the military resources to combat the insurgent threats. Furthermore, as ECOWAS’s own 2020-2024 Action Plan remains unimplemented and France—two years into West African counterterrorism Operation Barkhane—only see increased casualties with no regional gains, violence in the Sahel is unlikely to abate in long-term.

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