“Regional armies outmatched by tech-savvy jihadists”

WEST African armies need a new strategy to combat the growing jihadist threat because improved technologies have given militants the upper hand as they seek to destabilise the Sahel region, Niger’s president Mohamed Bazoum said on Monday.

Groups linked to al Qaeda and Islamic State have expanded their reach in the central Sahel since 2017, staging regular attacks that have killed thousands of people and displaced millions across Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso.

“Technological advances are now allowing rebel groups to access a number of tools which used to be the privilege of state forces,” said Bazoum, noting the use of satellite phones, motorcycles which make them more mobile than the army, and advanced weapons smuggled from Libya.

“Sahel states must adopt a military strategy adapted to the challenges of their techniques to make the war less unbalanced,” he said.

He was speaking at the Dakar Peace and Security Forum which opened on Monday in Senegal’s capital, bringing together several heads of state and European ministers to discuss stability and cooperation in post-pandemic Africa.

Senegalese President Macky Sall said budget-tightening by many African countries meant their armies had become less well-equipped to counter the growing jihadist threat in recent years.

“Security is priceless, but it comes at a cost,” he said in his introductory speech.

Communities in conflict-hit parts of the Sahel are increasingly losing patience with their governments’ inability to stem the violence, which has persisted despite the presence of European troops and U.N. peacekeepers.

Civilians shut down transport, gas stations and businesses in the central Malian towns of Bandiagara and Bankass on Monday after at least 31 people were killed in an attack on a passenger bus there last week.

“There are too many deaths. We demand security measures,” Bandiagara mayor Housseyni Saye told Reuters by phone.

Neighbouring Burkina Faso has also been hit with anti-government protests in recent weeks, spurring President Roch Kabore to promise military reform.

The unrest follows the deaths of more than 60 members of the security forces and at least a dozen civilians in militant attacks in November.

At least four more government soldiers were killed in eastern Burkina Faso on Sunday when their reconnaissance patrol struck an improvised explosive, a military source and a security source said on Monday.



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