Western-backed efforts to counter terror groups across Africa are falling short, increasing the chances one or more affiliates of Islamic State or al-Qaida could try to carve out their own caliphate on the continent, according to the latest assessment by a top U.S. commander.
The stark warning, shared with lawmakers Tuesday, builds on previous intelligence showing Africa-based groups have been growing more ambitious and more capable, with some increasingly bent on targeting the West.
"Western and international and African efforts there are not getting the job done," Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command, told lawmakers regarding developments in West Africa and the Sahel.
"ISIS and al-Qaida are on the march," he said, using an acronym for Islamic State. "If ISIS can carve out a new caliphate, or al-Qaida can, they will do it."
U.S. officials warn that many of the IS and al-Qaida affiliates have already grown so strong that Africa Command has been forced to shift its strategy to trying to contain the groups rather than to degrade their capabilities. Much of the attention has focused on the IS affiliates, buoyed by publicity from a steady stream of attacks on Nigerian government forces and others in the region.
"We're seeing increased activity by ISIS affiliates in West Africa, East Africa," State Department counterterrorism coordinator, Ambassador Nathan Sales, said late last month. "The ISIS brand lives on."
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