February 20, 2017 | Press Release

Despite Recent Losses, Islamic State Still Threatens North and West Africa, FDD Study Finds

(Washington, D.C., Feb. 20 2017) – The decline of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria may paradoxically help the group in Africa, particularly as state and non-state actors shift resources from combating ISIL to other urgent issues, giving the group breathing room to regenerate, according to a report issued today by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD).

The report, “Islamic State 2021: Possible Futures in North and West Africa,” provides a comprehensive look at ISIL’s potential for restoration in six African areas: Libya, Tunisia, Algeria, the Lake Chad region, Mali and Senegal.

“Although there have been significant blows to ISIL’s expansion campaign in Africa, it is highly likely that the global militant group will remain relevant there in the near term,” said lead author and FDD senior fellow Daveed Gartenstein-Ross.

The report describes four factors that will impact ISIL’s future trajectory in Africa:

  • ISIL’s defeat in the central Libyan city of Sirte was a major blow to the group’s prospects in North Africa. Sirte represented ISIL’s most promising affiliate outside of Syria and Iraq, and the group invested significant resources in the city. ISIL may now have to shift to an insurgency-based strategy to survive in Libya.
  • ISIL’s defeat in Sirte also leaves the group’s networks in Tunisia and Algeria vulnerable to disruption. Sirte functioned as a command and control hub for ISIL’s African operations, and the loss of the city could sever the ability of ISIL’s central command to wield control over the group’s North African affiliates.
  • The Islamic State’s West Africa Province (ISWAP), popularly known as Boko Haram, is militarily weak and internally fragmented. The group has suffered significant losses in recent months at the hands of Nigerian security forces, and has also experienced debilitating leadership disputes. 
  • Al-Qaeda is likely to capitalize on the fragmentation and deterioration of ISIL’s North and West African network. Al-Qaeda has already sought to woo North African Islamic State members, and is likely to accelerate these recruitment efforts as the appeal of ISIL’s global brand further wanes. 

Gartenstein-Ross said a military strategy alone is unlikely to produce a lasting victory over ISIL and other jihadist groups in the region. “State actors will have to improve governance, rule of law, and economic opportunities, especially in the economic and geographic periphery of the region, in order to deny ISIL the ability to recruit and establish safe havens.”


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About FDD:

The Foundation for Defense of Democracies is a non-profit, non-partisan 501(c)3 policy institute focusing on foreign policy and national security. Founded in 2001, FDD combines policy research, democracy and counterterrorism education, strategic communications and investigative journalism in support of its mission to promote pluralism, defend democratic values and fight the ideologies that drive terrorism. Visit our website at www.defenddemocracy.org and connect with us on TwitterFacebook, and YouTube.