Late Friday night, the 13th of November, the streets of Paris were abruptly and horrifically filled with the sounds of explosions and gunfire: the sounds of terror. The pain of these attacks is still being felt around the world, and as the aftermath of the violent tragedy in Paris plays out across our tv screens and news-feeds, the harsh reality of terrorism has regained a sense of immediacy for many. This feeling has only been made more acute since ISIS claimed responsibility for the attacks. With a tangible target to blame, governments around the world are, and will continue to debate potential military actions and weigh the outcomes of undeclared wars.
French fighter jets launched a massive bomb strike on the ISIS stronghold in Raqqa, Syria just two days after the attacks on their capital. This air raid, conducted with the aid of American military intelligence, can be seen as a foretaste of the more aggressive action governments will be bringing against ISIS and its host nations. But it is exactly the plurality of the countries in which ISIS holds factions that must be taken into account by policymakers in the coming months.
Not long after the attacks in Paris were reported, voices of concern began to ask why the recent terrorist events in Beirut did not receive the same degree of attention or response. And while the issues raised by those feeling forgotten in Lebanon are many, one thing the Beirut bombings remind us is that Paris is not an isolated incident -- neither in terms of time or geography.
The violent presence of ISIS can be found throughout Africa, notably on the southern border of Europe. For example, the crash of a Russian plane in Egypt early this November is thought to have been caused by a bomb planted by ISIS. And nearby, the chaos of post-Qaddafi Libya has created a near ideal environment for ISIS to grow in. This presence of ISIS in Egypt and Libya is cause for concern. Though the heart of ISIS can be found in the Middle-East, ISIS is a hydra-like organization, and while military intervention in Syria is essential in confronting ISIS, cutting off its head does not secure the destruction of its African factions.
For over a year ISIS has been conducting intense military and propaganda action throughout the African continent, vying for the support of other extremist terrorist groups. Efforts by an ISIS affiliated cell in Libya into the city of Sirte have been understood to be a show of strength meant to impress Nigerian terrorist group Boko Haram. And it seems ISIS's strategy is working, as Boko Haram pledged allegiance to ISIS last March in a public statement.
With a terrorist threat that is rooted in countries across the African continent which is targeting internationally, transnational accords must be made to combat it. It is vital that policymakers in the West look to allies in Africa to fight the threat of ISIS and its subsidiaries. Nations such as Mauritania, often overlooked by the international community, are going to be vital to the West if it wishes to take on ISIS.
Mauritania, a former French colony, can be found between Senegal and Morocco. Mauritania has become an invaluable ally to the West in fighting the growth of terrorism in West Africa. While up until recently, Mauritania had little to no interaction with the United States, existing more in European spheres of interest, reports of Boko Haram, Al Qaeda and ISIS fighters being trained in the West African country put it on Washington's radar. In 2014 the US Africa Command gifted Mauritania with a $21 million set of military aircraft, equipped with latest in advanced surveillance capabilities for the purposes of counter-terrorism. France and the United States have also both contributed to the training of Mauritanian soldiers to form an elite anti-terror brigade. Mauritania itself has coupled these military efforts with de-radicalization campaigns that reach out to the nonviolent Islamist opposition in an attempt to stem the influx of terrorists crossing the border from countries such as Libya and Mali.
This flood of militants, weaponry and toxic ideology from less stable neighboring nations led to a string of attacks targeting Western nationals and buildings in Mauritania in the last several years. The swift anti-terrorist response of the Mauritanian government caused al Qaeda and Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) to declare a jihad against the country. However Mauritanian armed forces have lead successful campaigns against al Qaeda and AQIM at Ouagadou Forest and Bessiknou and foiled bomb plots directed at its capital, actions which were lauded by the US State Department.