The Africa File is a biweekly analysis and assessment of the Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa and related security and political dynamics.
Africa File: 2020 year in review
[Notice: The Critical Threats Project frequently cites sources from foreign domains. All such links are identified with an asterisk (*) for the reader's awareness.]
To receive the Africa File via email, please subscribe here.
The United States faces an international security environment that is rapidly deteriorating. The Critical Threats Project (CTP) is dedicated to producing continuous assessments of threats to the US and our allies and helping our readers understand their nuance and scale. The Salafi-jihadi movement in Africa is one such threat that is growing quickly but is often overlooked. CTP has endeavored to provide the assessments needed to understand this challenge in 2020 and will continue and expand our efforts in 2021.
Highlights from 2020
AEI hosted a webinar with Maj. Gen. Dagvin Anderson, the commander of US Special Operations Command Africa, in September. He warned of African Salafi-jihadi groups’ growing lethality and increased responsiveness to their parent organizations and al Qaeda’s “methodical” coercion of vulnerable populations in West Africa. Watch the video or read the transcript here.
AEI Resident Fellow and CTP Adviser Katherine Zimmerman argues that reducing the US military footprint in Africa too much will undercut America’s competitiveness against near-peer rivals and disrupt the fight against the Salafi-jihadi movement. Read her argument here.
AEI Research Fellow and CTP Research Manager Emily Estelle argues that geopolitical competition and the Salafi-jihadi threat intersect and interact with each other in Africa and the Middle East. She identifies a “vicious cycle” in which proxy conflicts extend and expand local wars and create favorable conditions for Salafi-jihadi groups. Read the report or op-ed and listen to a podcast.
The CTP team is tracking the deteriorating security situation in East Africa. Estelle and Zimmerman argue that the withdrawal of most US troops from Somalia is shortsighted and will strengthen al Shabaab, an al Qaeda affiliate that is increasingly focused on plotting international terror attacks. Al Shabaab in Somalia may also benefit from the destabilization of neighboring Ethiopia. Read further on Somalia here, and find CTP Analyst Jessica Kocan’s Ethiopia Crisis updates here.
Below, please find a selection of Africa-focused analysis from the Critical Threats Project team and our partners in 2020. The regular Africa File will resume in January 2021. We hope that you enjoy these publications and look forward to continuing the conversation next year. You can always send feedback to [email protected].
On the Salafi-jihadi movement
- “Forecast: The African Salafi-jihadi movement after COVID-19” (Emily Estelle, Critical Threats Project, May 13)
- “Al-Qaeda’s return” (Katherine Zimmerman, AEIdeas, June 4)
- “The US is unprepared for Africa’s growing terror threat” (Emily Estelle, AEIdeas, September 25)
- “Salafi-jihadi ecosystem in the Sahel” (Katherine Zimmerman, Critical Threats Project, April 22)
- “Interactive graphic: Salafi-jihadi ecosystem in the Sahel.” (Katherine Zimmerman, American Enterprise Institute, April 22)
- “Prisoner releases will empower extremist insurgencies.” (Rahma Bayrakdar and Eva Kahan, Critical Threats Project, December 1)
- “E31: Brawl between Islamic State and Al Qaeda in Africa may strengthen Salafi-jihadi movement” (Emily Estelle, Overwatch, July 24)
- “E19: Pandemic enables spread of Salafi jihadism in Africa” (Emily Estelle, Overwatch, May 7)
On regional security dynamics
- “Fragility and failure: A better foreign policy to counter new threats” (Katherine Zimmerman, American Enterprise Institute, October 26)
- “Why the U.S. should spend 0.3 percent of its defense budget to prevent an African debacle” (Katherine Zimmerman, Military Times, March 12)
- “Eyes on the other global crises” (Emily Estelle, RealClearWorld, April 22)
- “Vicious cycles: How disruptive states and extremist movements fill power vacuums and fuel each other” (Emily Estelle, Critical Threats Project, August 17)
- “E42: Vicious cycles in the Middle East and Africa continue to threaten US national security despite efforts to withdraw” (Emily Estelle, Overwatch, October 10)
- “No competition without presence: Should the US leave Africa?” (Katherine Zimmerman, PRISM, October 21)
- Web event: “The crossroad of competition: Countering the rise of violent extremists and revisionist powers in Africa” (Frederick Kagan, Katherine Zimmerman, and Emily Estelle, American Enterprise Institute, September 9)
On West Africa
- “Niger kidnapping signals Salafi-jihadis’ growing influence in West Africa” (Rahma Bayrakdar, Critical Threats Project, November 6)
On North Africa
- “Warning update: Egypt’s Libya threat risks larger Mediterranean war” (Emily Estelle, Critical Threats Project, June 22)
- “E27: US ally Egypt threatens military move into Libya against NATO member Turkey” (Emily Estelle, Overwatch, June 24)
- “The challenge of North African Salafism” (Emily Estelle, Defense Dossier, January 15)
On East Africa
- “Civil war is breaking out in Africa’s second largest country” (Emily Estelle, Critical Threats Project, November 4)
- “Trump’s short-sighted request to withdraw troops from Somalia” (Katherine Zimmerman and Emily Estelle, AEIdeas, October 15)
- “2020 Ethiopia crisis updates” (The Editors, Critical Threats Project, November 5)