US voices concern over effect of Sahel military coups on counter-terrorism efforts

Washington committed to offering support to African allies as they try to weaken ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates

The coup in Niger last month could have a negative effect on counter-terrorism efforts in West Africa, a UN official said. AFP
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The US is “deeply concerned” by the string of military takeovers in the Sahel and their potential impact on counter-terrorism efforts in the region, Washington's UN ambassador told the Security Council on Friday.

“ISIS continues to take advantage of conflict and inequality to attract followers and organise terrorist attacks,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield pointed out that Washington remains committed to offering support to its African allies in their efforts to disrupt and weaken ISIS and Al Qaeda affiliates.

She also expressed hope that the coming Africa Counter-terrorism Summit, scheduled for early 2024, will include a focus on “engagement with civil society organisations” so that any outcomes from the conference have the best possible impact.

Vladimir Voronkov, UN undersecretary general for counter-terrorism, said that the threat posed by ISIS remains high in conflict zones.

He was particularly concerned that ISIS’s affiliate in the Sahel, ISGS, has become increasingly autonomous and has played a significant role in the escalation of violence in the region.

Mr Voronkov said that the coup in Niger last month could have a negative effect on counter-terrorism efforts in West Africa.

“The confrontation between this group [ISGS] and Al Qaeda affiliates in the region, coupled with the uncertain situation after the coup d'etat in Niger, presents a complex and multifaceted challenge,” he said.

The UN diplomat also spoke on Afghanistan, describing how weapons were falling into the hands of terror groups that were growing in their ability to organise and carry out attacks.

A UN report published last month stated that ISIS-Khorasan Province [ISIS-K] is the most serious terrorist threat to Afghanistan and the surrounding region.

The report said that ISIS-K has increased its operational capabilities inside Afghanistan, with the total number of people associated with the group estimated at 4,000 to 6,000. It added that it is also becoming more sophisticated in its attacks against both the Taliban and international targets.

Sexual and gender-based violence in Sudan

The world body report also noted that victims of sexual and gender-targeted violence perpetrated by terrorist groups as well as during coups and other conflicts continue to face stigma, with child survivors severely affected.

Several UN entities have reported the systematic and widespread use of sexual and gender-based violence including rape, kidnapping and sexual exploitation in Sudan's ongoing conflict.

“Perpetrators must be held accountable, and we continue to reiterate the need for the parties to immediately cease hostilities, facilitate humanitarian access and establish a permanent ceasefire arrangement,” Ms Thomas-Greenfield told reporters.

Last month, a joint statement from UN agencies said the world body’s human rights office in Sudan had received credible reports of 21 incidents of conflict-related sexual violence against at least 57 women and girls since the conflict began in mid-April.

According to the UN, in one case, as many as 20 women were reportedly raped in the same attack.

Updated: August 25, 2023, 6:29 PM