In many western countries, politicians, soldiers and veterans gather every November to pay tribute to comrades killed fighting for their country. Among those commemorated this year were more than 3,500 troops from America and its allies who died in Afghanistan before the West’s humiliating retreat this summer. And among those paying tribute, far from the Cenotaph in London or the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, were dusty Western soldiers in small garrisons across a swathe of Africa. With the formalities over, they resumed their posts among almost 9,000 European and American troops on the front line of what is now the West’s biggest offensive against jihadists, in the Sahel. It is not going well. How it will end depends in no small part on whether the West learns the right lessons from its failures in Afghanistan.
Some may argue that the main lesson is to avoid fighting insurgents in distant lands where no pressing national interests are at stake. But that is not the case in the Sahel, where jihadists aligned to al-Qaeda and Islamic State have taken aim at Western countries, bombing their embassies and kidnapping or killing their citizens. If the jihadists are given havens and time, they will surely launch attacks on European or American soil, too. “That is their goal and their determination and they’ve been open about it,” says a Western general.
Western governments see other interests at stake as well. The most afflicted countries of the Sahel (Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger) are among the poorest, have the world’s fastest-growing populations and are among those where climate change will do the greatest harm.
The West should offer more than a purely military solution to the jihadist insurgencies in the Sahel and be realistic about what it can achieve. A start would be to respond to local grievances https://t.co/sKK5G1h6ZJ
— The Economist (@TheEconomist) November 21, 2021