Publicly Released: February 11, 2020
This Lead Inspector General (Lead IG) report to the United States Congress on the East Africa Counterterrorism Operation and the North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operation is the 6th quarterly report—and the first unclassified report—detailing both operations. The purpose of these operations is to degrade al Qaeda and ISIS affiliates, and other terrorist groups, in designated regions of Africa. This report covers the period from October 1, 2019, to December 31, 2019.
In East Africa this quarter, al Shabaab intensified its threat to U.S. forces and interests by conducting multiple high-profile attacks. This included an attack, just after the quarter ended, on Kenya’s Manda Bay Airfield that killed three U.S. military personnel. Despite continued U.S. airstrikes in Somalia and U.S. assistance to African partner forces, al Shabaab appears to be a growing threat that aspires to strike the U.S. homeland.
In West Africa, local and international forces were overmatched by violent extremist organizations (VEOs). U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM) does not lead any counterterrorism operations but provides support to partner forces in West Africa. USAFRICOM stated to the DoD OIG that VEOs are neither contained nor degraded in the Sahel and Lake Chad region, where at least 230 African partner nation soldiers were killed this quarter by jihadist violence in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.
The Department of Defense is reviewing its deployment of resources worldwide, including a “Blank Slate Review” of USAFRICOM. One option under consideration, according to media reports, is a reduction of resources deployed to West Africa, where extremist violence is increasing and the humanitarian crisis has reached unprecedented levels.
In North Africa, al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and ISIS-Libya did not conduct any attacks this quarter. U.S. drones strikes in September 2019 significantly degraded ISIS-Libya. However, the ongoing Libyan civil war risks a resurgence by either group without steady counterterrorism pressure.
In November, a U.S. surveillance drone monitoring terrorist activity was shot down over Tripoli in November by Russian paramilitary forces known as the Wagner Group, according to USAFRICOM’s Commander. U.S. officials warned that expanded Russian influence in North Africa undermines the U.S. ability to enhance military relationships in the region.
During the quarter, the Lead IG agencies and our oversight partners issued seven reports relating to the East Africa and North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operations. These reports included U.S. embassy inspections and an evaluation of the Air Force’s management of medical equipment at Air Force bases in Niger.
The East Africa and North and West Africa Counterterrorism Operations were designated as overseas contingency operations in February 2018. At the time of the designation, both operations were pre-existing counterterrorism operations. The Secretary of Defense removed the overseas contingency operation designation for both operations in May 2019, but the two operations continue to receive Overseas Contingency Operation funding.
Section 8L of the Inspector General Act of 1978 provides a mandate for the three Lead IG agencies—the Department of Defense, DoS, and USAID Offices of Inspector General—to work together to develop and carry out joint, comprehensive, and strategic oversight. Each Inspector General retains statutory independence, but together they apply their extensive regional experience and in-depth institutional knowledge to conduct whole-of-government oversight of this overseas contingency operation.