North and West Africa Seek to Jumpstart Regional Counterterrorism Cooperation

North and West Africa Seek to Jumpstart Regional Counterterrorism Cooperation

Over the course of the past year, there has been a cascade of African-led initiatives to increase security cooperation in the Sahel and Maghreb regions. While such initiatives are a function of the enduring imperative for states there to develop a more robust regional response to counter nonstate transnational threats, such as al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and other violent extremist organizations, Sahel and Maghreb states may yet struggle to let go of some of the baggage that had impeded previous regional cooperation efforts.

Prior to the 2012-2013 Mali crisis, mistrust among regional partners had hampered efforts to convince countries like Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Niger to increase cooperation against AQIM. As AQIM increasingly began to operate in northern Mali, for instance, some states in the region became concerned by allegations that the Malian government had an unspoken agreement with the group, whereby Mali gave AQIM free reign to operate in the north so long as the group shared revenues from illicit trafficking with the Malian government and its northern allies, and refrained from launching attacks in Bamako. Under the pre-coup government of President Amadou Toumani Toure, allegations that Mali’s security and intelligence services would alert AQIM to imminent Malian-Mauritanian operations in the Ouagadou forest had already created a disincentive for regional partners to share sensitive information with the Malian government.

In addition, the 40-year standoff between Algeria and Morocco over the status of Western Sahara has been another impediment to regional collaboration, as the dispute is the prism through which Morocco views its foreign affairs and through which Algeria views all Moroccan actions. Arguing that Sahelian security issues do not concern Morocco, Algeria has refrained from inviting Morocco to participate in regional counterterrorism efforts, such as the Algiers-based African Center for Studies and Research on Terrorism, which has convened countries in the region, with the exception of Morocco, in ministerial-level discussions of the threat posed by AQIM.

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