Girls groomed for suicide missions fight back against the extremists of Lake Chad
Halima Yakoy Adam won’t forget 22nd December in 2015, the day she was supposed to carry out a suicide bomb attack in the Lac Region town of Bol, 200 km north of N’Djamena, the capital of Chad, in Central Africa.
“It was market day in Bol and I was with two other girls who like me carried explosives,” the young woman told UN News. “I was just 15 years old. I was given drugs and had been trained by the extremist Boko Haram terrorist group to be a suicide bomber.”
The local authorities detected the three teenage girls and tried to arrest them, but the two other girls detonated their explosive vests, killing themselves and seriously wounding Halima Yakoy Adam. She survived but had both legs amputated below her knees.
Halima is one of the extraordinary young women, introduced to the United Nations Deputy Secretary-General in Chad on Thursday. UN News is accompanying her and other senior women from the world body, and the African Union, on a high-level visit that will include neighbouring Niger this weekend.
Boko Haram has been active in north-east Nigeria and the neighbouring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger for several years. Its chief aim is to create an Islamist state in the north of Nigeria. Its campaign of terror has caused the displacement of some 10 million people as of 2017, and led to the widespread destruction of basic infrastructure, such as health and educational facilities, as well as agricultural land and machinery.
Coordination among the affected countries including through the Multinational Joint Task Force (MNJTF) has led to what the UN described last year as “encouraging progress in the fight against Boko Haram.” But to compensate for that success, the group has changed its tactics, increasing the use of suicide attacks. In June and July 2017, the United Nations recorded some 130 attacks attributed to Boko Haram, leading to the deaths of 284 civilians in the four affected countries.
Speaking in Bol after talking to Halima, Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed told UN News: “This is one of many stories I have heard, as this is where I come from. I come from Nigeria. This is sadly the story of many girls; but unlike Halima many did not survive.”
Ms Mohammed praised the young woman’s resilience, adding: “I think there is more awareness of suicide bombing today than there was before. There is nothing more powerful than a victim who tells her story. Halima has moved from victim to survivor because she is using that experience to educate other girls.”
Although the incidence of suicide bombing appears to be increasing in Chad, it is a relatively new development for women to be involved, according to Clarisse Mehoudamadji Nailar from CELIAF, a Chadian association of women leaders.
“Extremism amongst women didn’t exist in the past in Chad. This seems to be a new phenomenon,” she said. “The Government is making a big effort to fight the extremists and meanwhile non-governmental organizations in Chad are trying to educate and sensitize women about the dangers of extremism.”
A joint United Nations-African Union mission has been in Chad for two days. The visit which also included the Foreign Minister of Sweden, Margot Wallström, has focused on the importance of women’s meaningful participation in promoting peace, security and development.
The Executive Director of the UN’s gender agency, UN Women, Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka- also part of the mission – said that groups like Boko Haram aim to manipulate young girls to carry out terrorist acts. “What is common to these terrorist groups is the subjugation of women and girls and a denial of their rights”, she told UN News.
“These groups manipulate and exploit inequality. It is for this reason that our efforts to prevent violent extremism need to prioritize gender equality.” She added that “Halima’s story epitomizes the relationship between the lack of power of women and terrorism – a young woman who had no choices over decisions relating to her own life.”
Back in Bol in Chad’s Lac Region, Halima has finished her training as a paralegal. Today she considers herself an agent change of who sensitizes “my sisters against radicalism and extreme violence,” she said adding: “I am happy to have a second chance in life and now I want to give back to my community.”
Terrorism a Collective Problem and its Challenges
Terrorism has become a global problem that affects everyone regardless of race, religion, or nationality. The recent US report that warned of the availability space for terrorist groups in the Afghanistan is a clear indication that terrorism is not just a local problem, but a global one. The fight against terrorism requires a collective effort and a shared responsibility from all nations, as no single country can single-handedly tackle this menace.
Afghanistan has been a hotspot for terrorism for decades. The region has been home to various terrorist groups, including the Taliban, Al-Qaeda, and ISIS.
The fight against terrorism requires a collective effort from all nations. It is not only Pakistan’s responsibility. It is essential for all nations to work together to address the root causes of terrorism. This includes addressing issues such as poverty, inequality, and political instability. It also requires effective law enforcement, intelligence gathering, and cooperation between nations.
Pakistan has long been a victim of terrorism, with thousands of innocent lives lost and billions of dollars of economic damage inflicted upon the country. One of the main factors contributing to this scourge has been the instability and insecurity in neighboring Afghanistan, which has allowed terrorist groups to thrive and operate with impunity. In recent years, there have been growing concerns about the resurgence of these groups in the region, which poses a significant threat not only to Pakistan but also to the wider international community.
The United States, which has been involved in the war in Afghanistan for the past two decades, has been one of the main actors in trying to address this issue. However, a recent US report has warned that despite the presence of thousands of US troops and billions of dollars in aid, terrorist groups were once again regrouping along the Pakistan-Afghanistan region. This has raised serious questions about the effectiveness of the US-led intervention in the region and the future of regional stability and security.
Pakistan has also been voicing its concerns about the terrorist resurgence in Afghanistan for a long time, and has been making concerted efforts to tackle the issue. This has included high-level diplomatic efforts, including numerous meetings and consultations with other countries, as well as increased security measures within Pakistan’s borders.
One of the main challenges faced by Pakistan has been the lack of cooperation from the Afghan government, which has been unable to control the territory and prevent the resurgence of terrorist groups. This has led to a situation where Pakistan has been forced to bear the brunt of the violence and instability in the region, even as it continues to make efforts to address the issue.
However, despite these challenges, Pakistan has remained committed to its efforts to tackle terrorism and to work with other countries in the region and beyond to address this common threat. This has included a strong focus on intelligence sharing, joint operations, and other measures aimed at disrupting terrorist networks and preventing attacks.
At the same time, Pakistan has also been making efforts to address the underlying issues that contribute to the spread of terrorism, including poverty, inequality, and lack of education and opportunity. This has included a range of social and economic development programs aimed at addressing these issues and providing a more stable and prosperous future for the people of Pakistan and the wider region.
Despite these efforts, however, the resurgence of terrorist groups in the region remains a major concern, and requires a concerted and sustained effort from all actors involved. This includes the Afghan government, regional powers such as Iran and India, and the international community as a whole. Only by working together can we hope to address this common threat and ensure a more stable and secure future for the region and the world as a whole.
Terrorism is indeed a common problem and a shared responsibility, and requires a collaborative approach from all actors involved. Pakistan, as a victim of terrorism, has been making concerted efforts to address this issue, but faces significant challenges in the form of the resurgence of terrorist groups in the region. It is therefore incumbent upon all actors to work together to address this issue and to ensure a more stable and secure future for the region and the world as a whole.
U.S.-Pakistan Two-Day Counterterrorism Dialogue
On March 6–7, 2023, Pakistan and the US had a Two-Day Counterterrorism Dialogue during which they reiterated their commitment to combat terrorism. A variety of subjects were discussed throughout the course of the two days of discussions, including counterterrorism cooperation in multilateral fora, assessments of the regional counterterrorism environment, cyber security, and battling violent extremism. The US assistance projects in Pakistan were discussed, with a focus on strengthening the judiciary and anti-money laundering sectors.
Earlier, the US made several remarks in support of Pakistan’s anti-terrorism efforts. It is important to note that this increased support occurred in the wake of the TTP’s worst strikes in recent months, particularly those in Peshawar and Karachi. A research group in Islamabad called the Pakistan Institute for Conflict and Security Studies recently revealed numbers showing that January 2023 was one of the bloodiest months since July 2018 with 134 deaths and 254 injuries from at least 44 militant attacks across the nation.
Moreover, at the end of 2022, at least nine attacks in the restive southwestern province of Balochistan, killing at least six security officers. Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an armed organization often known as Pakistani Taliban due to its ideological affinities with the Afghan Taliban, has so far claimed responsibility for two of those attacks. Since the TTP ended a ceasefire agreement in June 2022 with the government unilaterally, it has urged its militants to conduct attacks across the country.
The Pakistan Institute for Peace Studies (PIPS), a research group with offices in Islamabad, calculates that the TTP and its affiliate organizations carried out more than 150 attacks in the first 11 months of 2022, killing more than 150 people, the majority of whom were members of law enforcement agencies.
Residents of the tribal agencies and the surrounding areas, which include towns like North Waziristan, Bajaur, and Bannu, have been complaining about the TTP fighters’ increasing presence since they started setting up checkpoints and demanding ransom from traders at least since last year.
As a result of the Afghan Taliban’s success in 2021, the TTP has intensified its efforts to persuade Islamabad to adopt its demands at the bargaining table, according to analysts.
One of the TTP’s fundamental demands is that the government reinstate the autonomous status of the tribal region bordering Afghanistan. The KP province amalgamated with the tribal agencies, which were formerly a center of Taliban violence. TTP also wants the security forces of Pakistan to leave the area.
The TTP has been fighting the government of Pakistan since its founding in 2007. They are calling for stricter application of Islamic law, the release of their members who have been detained by the government, and a reversal of the merger of Pakistan’s tribal regions with Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province. According to the Pak Center for Peace Research, terrorist attacks in Pakistan increased by 50% in the year after the Taliban took control of Kabul, resulting in the deaths of about 433 individuals (PIPS).
In a nutshell, the US’s affirmation of its support for Pakistan in its counterterrorism operations is timely given that security threats to Pakistan will not only persist there but will expand to the rest of the region, and the US is not far behind these concerns, particularly in this cyber age. The United States has reiterated that the security relationship with Pakistan is ‘important’ and that many of the threats that Islamabad faces “could well in turn be threats to us”
Violent Extremist Organizations Threaten West Africa’s Development
Violent extremist organizations, such as militant Islamist groups, have been a major threat to West Africa’s development. In Burkina Faso, these organizations have spread instability through violent events and have become increasingly active in the Sahel region (Brottem, 2022). The presence of these extremist groups has led to persistent instability across much of West Africa, from Mali in the north to coastal regions in the south. Islamist extremism has been particularly pervasive in the Sahel region, resulting in widespread insecurity and instability hampering development efforts (Council on Foreign Relations, 2023).
Burkina Faso is among the countries most affected by this phenomenon, as it has seen a dramatic rise in militant Islamist groups in recent years (Brottem, 2022). These extremist groups are linked to other littoral countries, such as Cote d’Ivoire, and they have been responsible for numerous terrorist attacks against rural inhabitants and security forces. This has led to a heightened sense of insecurity among West Africa’s coastal countries, which are increasingly vulnerable to extremism (Aubyn, 2021). The below map from The Economist depicts highly concentrated areas of terrorist attacks in the West African Region. This picture highlights that from 2019-2022, the trajectory is pointed upward, sending discomfort, and spells trouble for these affected countries.
The presence of weakened economies and widespread poverty in West African countries has made them especially susceptible to recruitment by violent extremist groups (Council on Foreign Relations, 2023). These extremist groups have been responsible for several severe human rights violations, including forced displacement, sexual violence, torture, and extrajudicial killings. In the Sahel region, terrorist groups such as al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and Boko Haram have been responsible for a series of attacks that have further destabilized the region. As a result of this instability, African states are struggling to respond adequately to these challenges posed by violent extremism (Senior Study Group on Coastal West Africa, 2022). Furthermore, it is becoming increasingly difficult for regional governments to protect their citizens from human rights violations perpetrated by extremist organizations and their affiliates in coastal areas (Security Council Report, 2021).
Violent extremist organizations continue to threaten West Africa’s development as they are responsible for regional instability and attacks across the continent. The region has suffered through violent political crises, wars that engulfed Liberia and Sierra Leone in the 1990s, and extremist attacks in Nigeria, including those of Boko Haram (Siaplay & Werker, 2023). In recent years, Nigeria has faced insurgencies from terrorist groups such as Daesh. All these events have affected West African countries’ ability to achieve sustained economic growth or lasting peace. Even with increased security measures by local governments, it is difficult to prevent extremist violence due to the lack of resources available for counterterrorism operations (Senior Study Group on Coastal West Africa, 2022). Civil wars and other extremism have caused instability in many areas throughout West Africa, making it difficult for nations to focus on developing their economies or providing basic services such as health care or education (UN Deputy-General Mohammed, 2022).
The below figure from the Center for Strategic International Studies illustrates the many coups, with some successes and failures. However, the picture presented here alone does not do justice to the current security situation in this volatile region. These recent coups have had great impacts on security and other development projects. The most notable ones are in Burkina Faso, where two coups were staged in less than a year, which is not captured in this picture. The violent groups always capitalize on gaps or gray areas where governments have little to zero control of their vast territories to settle and launch attacks against first security forces, then civilians.
With the help of their African partners, African governments must lead the way in creating a successful counterterrorism strategy that addresses these threats and creates conditions to improve the livelihood of their people (Sherwood-Randall, 2022). The instability caused by violent extremist organizations has devastated many countries on the continent, making it difficult for them to focus on development and economic growth. The threat these groups pose is real and requires concerted efforts from both African governments and other partners if they are to be defeated (U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 2016). It is essential that African countries work together in order to create peace and stability across the region so that citizens can have access to basic services, education, job opportunities, and economic growth.
West Africa is particularly vulnerable to the threat of violent extremist organizations, which can disrupt and impede the development of resilient, democratic societies. The Accra Initiative was established in 2012 to address this threat, with the aim of promoting collaboration between African member states and international efforts to combat violent extremism (Aubyn, 2021). In recent years, Burkina Faso has been a key focus for international efforts due to its strategic importance in West Africa. The country is situated in the Sahel region, bordering countries such as Niger and Mali where extremist groups are known to operate (Senior Study Group on Coastal West Africa, 2022). Due to extreme poverty and limited economic opportunities, many people living in Burkina Faso risk joining these groups out of desperation or coercion (U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 2016). It is, therefore, critical that national interests are prioritized when it comes to tackling extremism and creating stability throughout the region – including coastal areas, which may be vulnerable for different reasons – so that all citizens can have access to basic services without fear or insecurity (UN Deputy-General Mohammed, 2022).
Work countering extremism is essential to achieving this. West Africa is home to many extremist groups, with violent extremist organizations like Boko Haram and Ansaru wreaking havoc in the region. Persistent attacks against security targets and civilians have hindered development and created numerous security challenges (Haruna, 2022). It has become increasingly important for regional governments to take concrete steps toward tackling violent extremism. The Accra Initiative is a regional strategy that aims to counter violent extremism in West Africa through comprehensive action plans and cooperative efforts between member states (IRI, 2023). This initiative includes a range of initiatives such as improved border control, de-radicalization programs, and support for victims of violence – all of which will help reduce the threat posed by extremist organizations throughout the region. The Sahel region has been particularly hard hit by these challenges, with several countries facing ongoing instability due to numerous armed groups operating there.
Burkina Faso, in particular, has faced a significant increase in the number and strength of violent extremist groups, including jihadist groups and terrorist organizations (CISIS, 2016). These militant groups have employed subtle strategies to target regional economic interests and disrupt communal peace through violence and intimidation. This has devastated the development of countries in West Africa, like Burkina Faso (Aubyn, 2021). These extremist organizations seriously threaten stability and security in the region, making it difficult for governments to promote economic growth or tackle pressing issues such as poverty or inequality (Security Council Report, 2021).
Terrorist groups, terrorist organizations, and militant Islamist groups have all been active in West Africa, particularly in the Sahel region (Sherwood-Randall, 2022). Al Qaeda has been in the region for some time, although its power has waned over recent years. Other criminal organizations, such as Boko Haram and Ansar Dine, are also very active in the region. The presence of these extremist groups is having a huge impact on West Africa’s development prospects (Council on Foreign Relations, 2023). In order to tackle this security threat, increased cooperation between countries is needed, both at a regional and international level. International assistance from powerful nations such as the United States and France could be key to tackling these two major issues: violence perpetrated by Islamic extremist groups and poverty across the Sahel region (CISIS, 2016). However, there has been a huge lack of trust in France’s involvement in West Africa, which could also be a caveat in how these countries fight off these violent groups. It is essential that governments collaborate more effectively to combat these security threats if they are to ensure lasting economic growth for their citizens (U.S. Senate, Committee on Foreign Relations, 2016).
The continual attacks in the region mean development becomes a secondary priority for the leadership, exacerbating many citizens’ living conditions. This permissive environment created by violent extremist organizations underscores the inability of governments to foster better social policies to disengage the vibrant youths from engaging in social vices.
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