A View from the CT Foxhole: Brigadier General Rose Keravuori, Deputy Director of Intelligence, United States Africa Command.

AuthorDodwell, Brian

CTC: With the shift away from the traditional battlegrounds in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's been a popular refrain to label Africa as the new epicenter for global jihadi terrorism. Would you agree with that characterization? More broadly, how would you frame the current jihadi threat in Africa?

Keravuori: I would absolutely agree. For al-Qa'ida and ISIS, the most operationally active and financially lucrative affiliates are on the African continent. There are probably many reasons for this. Certainly the economic issues in some of these countries lend themselves to individuals being radicalized more easily, but also there are social as well as ethnic differences in [certain] countries that radicalize a sub-ethnic group, which allows, again, for their easier radicalization.

What we're seeing on the African continent are IS and AQ affiliates metastasizing. In the west, ISIS-West Africa is a viable entity that has grown in Nigeria and the Lake Chad Basin. In Mali, Niger, and Burkina Faso, JNIM--an al-Qa'ida affiliate--is alive and well and has grown exponentially, so much so that the littoral countries of Ghana, Togo, and Benin view it as an existential threat. In the east, al-Shabaab continues to vie for space and competes with the Federal Government of Somalia to provide governance and be a viable alternative. Lastly, I would say ISIS-DRC and the ISIS cells that we see throughout several countries in central and southern Africa are looking to grow. These groups are alive and well.

CTC: Speaking of ISIS, as we've seen the number of affiliates expand over the last couple of years and spread geographically, a lot of these are based on historical, local groups with local objectives and grievances. How have you seen their transition to ISIS affiliates/provinces? Is there still a focus on that localized nature, or do they take on more of the regional or globalized outlook of ISIS writ large?

Keravuori: That's an interesting question. I think the ISIS regional nodes and core have done a lot of marketing to build their franchise. And so what we've seen--whether it's ISIS-Mozambique, ISIS-DRC, ISIS-Somalia--are locations that had their own problems and lent themselves, as I mentioned earlier, to radicalization of personnel that joined the group. But then the instruction, the money, the direction that they're getting from the regional nodes means that they are moving towards the desires of ISIS Core. So we're definitely seeing the hand of what I would call C2--command and control--of what these nodes are doing and really exploiting regional grievances by offering help. Unfortunately, they are having a lot of success with franchising.

CTC: There's been some discussion and debate about the level of ISIS Core engagement with these localized franchises. It sounds like you're characterizing it as a growing level of engagement. Would that be accurate? And do you think, from a command and control perspective, that ISIS will expand its level of control?

Keravuori: What I would say is, not necessarily ISIS Core but organizations that have engaged with ISIS Core since 2 015, notably ISIS-West Africa and ISIS-Somalia, have taken on that role of really representing what ISIS Core needs and applying that to other networks in their respective regions. And then ensuring that each node has leadership, is well financed, has the direction of the Core. I think there was, at one point, a question in ISIS Core [about] the role of African leaders in the franchise, and what I think they've seen is the value of the African groups and then of the money that they're able to raise. Whether through kidnap-for-ransom networks, or taxation and other means, they're able to be financially stable, and we assume some of that money is getting back to Core. So they cannot be ignored. Though I would say ISIS Core probably originally wanted [them] to be more Arab-led, what you're seeing in Africa are key nodes leading the expansion throughout Africa and then being that conduit for the C2 of what Core would like to do with the expansion in Africa.

CTC: How would you characterize the relationship between al-Qa'ida and ISIS on the continent today. Obviously, we've seen conflict between the two organizations globally. How is that playing out on the African continent? Is there more conflict in some places versus others? Do we see cooperation in certain locales?

Keravuori: It's interesting, there is definitely conflict between the two. In the west right now [fall 2022], ISIS-Sahel and JNIM--the al-Qa'ida affiliate that is operating out of Mali and Burkina Faso and bits of Niger--are actively fighting. They [JNIM] have ongoing operations to limit ISIS-Sahel and the territory that it controls.

And of course it goes back to where their financial base is. They are actively doing operations against each other in Mali. Of course, we're happy about this, but it doesn't necessarily mean it will stem JNIM's expansion.

In the east, ISIS-Somalia and al-Shabaab have clashed at certain points as al-Shabaab has tried to take on territorial control of more of Somalia going from the south to the central region. They both look to expand in the areas that they own, but the conflict isn't as active as in West Africa because ISIS-Somalia and al-Shabaab generally do not operate in overlapping areas.

CTC: To dive deeper into some specific countries and regions, we saw [in late November 2022] al-Shabaab carry out yet another attack in Mogadishu, specifically a hotel. (1) What has been the source of al-Shabaab's resilience, and why have the Somali government, A.U. forces, and the U.S. not managed to significantly diminish that threat there?

Keravuori: First, let me make a comment about why you're going to see more attacks and why you have seen more attacks recently. It's because al-Shabaab feels backed into a corner. There is an offensive by the Federal Government of Somalia--with SNA troops and ATMIS [African...

To continue reading

Request your trial

VLEX uses login cookies to provide you with a better browsing experience. If you click on 'Accept' or continue browsing this site we consider that you accept our cookie policy. ACCEPT