Former British General: Africa Becoming Next Jihadist Battleground

Thursday, 19 Dec 2013 04:16 AM

By Joel Himelfarb

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With al-Qaida and its affiliates stepping up operations in Africa, one of Britain’s most respected former generals warns that the West ignores the growing danger at its peril.
 
Gen. Sir David Richards, who served as Prime Minister David Cameron’s top military advisorfrom 2010 through July of this year, also said in an interview with the BBC that London needed to learn lessons from its prior actions.

Richards said he now questions  whether the U.S.- and NATO-led operation that led to the toppling of Libyan strongman Moammar Gadhafi in 2011was the right move.

He regards the operation as a tactical success in that it led to Gadhafi’s ouster. But Richards wonders if the dictator’s demise was a good thing, because it resulted in a chaotic situation in which jihadist militants and arms traffickers looted Libya’s massive weapons stocks and funneled weaponry to regional hotspots like Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula.

Richards retired from the military this summer after a 42-year career that included roles as a commander in numerous locations around the world, ranging from Afghanistan, where he commanded NATO’s International Security Assistance Force, to Sierra Leone, where he spearheaded a daring, successful military intervention against rebels terrorizing the country in an effort to corner the diamond market.

Today, Richards sees a different, more global danger emanating from Africa: stepped-up activity by jihadist forces.

These include al-Shabab’s expanded operations outside Somalia, including the September attack and siege at a Nairobi mall where 67 people were killed.

French troops spearheaded a Western response to an Islamist insurgency in Mali this year, and Nigeria is battling Boko Haram, a violent Islamist group staging attacks throughout the country.

"I do worry very much that sub-Saharan Africa is the next front; in many ways it already is," Richards said. "We must learn from what we have done and failed to do in other parts of the world in trying to combat this risk and do it pretty quickly or it could become pretty vicious, as if it wasn't already bad enough."

Other militant Islamist groups operating in Africa, the BBC reported, include Ansar al-Sharia, which has branches in Tunisia and Libya.

One of its activists is suspected of involvement in the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack in which U.S. Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens was killed.

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