Publicly Released: September 1, 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 8th quarterly report detailing both operations. The purpose of these operations is to degrade al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates, and other violent extremist organizations (VEO), in designated regions of East and North Africa, and contain them in designated regions of West Africa. This report covers the period from April 1, 2020, through to June 30, 2020.
The United States and its international partners made limited progress this quarter toward the goals of these two operations. In East Africa, al-Shabaab moved freely and launched attacks in Somalia and Kenya. United States Africa Command (USAFRICOM) reported no change in the amount of territory controlled by al-Shabaab or the Somali government.
In North Africa, ISIS-Libya resumed small-scale attacks in the southern desert region of Libya. The ongoing civil war, which is concentrated in the northern parts of the country, intensified as more foreign fighters and mercenaries deployed to Libya to fight on both sides of the conflict. USAFRICOM withdrew its small number of counterterrorism forces from Libya in 2019 due to instability caused by the civil war.
In West Africa, where al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates operate in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions, violence continued at high levels and expanded to new territories. In June, a French-led, U.S.-supported operation in Mali killed the highest-ranking al-Qaeda leader in Africa, Abdelmalek Droukdal. In August, the United States suspended military cooperation with Mail following a mutiny in the country’s armed forces and the subsequent resignation of the country’s president; we are monitoring the situation and will report on these developments in our next quarterly report.
The spread of coronavirus disease–2019 (COVID-19) across the African continent did not appear to slow VEO activity during the quarter. At the same time, the pandemic exacerbated many of the underlying conditions that foster VEO growth, including economic and food insecurity. The United Nations reported that in the Sahel, COVID-19 added "a layer of complexity" to the security environment as VEOs capitalized on the virus to undermine state government authority and continue their attacks.
The U.S. Government adjusted some of its activities in Africa in response to the pandemic. USAFRICOM reduced advising of partner forces, conducting only remote advising in some locations. Meanwhile, U.S. airstrikes in Somalia continued, as did several partner-led counterterrorism operations. The Department of State continued diplomatic activities in Africa, despite having reduced staffing at some of its embassies due to COVID-19.
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, Department of State, and U.S. Agency for International Development 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.