Fighters linked to al-Qaida and the Islamic State are now operating in cooperation in West Africa’s Sahel region and are reportedly pushing into new areas. In an exclusive interview with the Associated Press, US Air Force Brig. Gen. Dagvin Anderson talked about the increasing dangers posed by the newly emerged ties. "I believe that if it's left unchecked it could very easily develop into a great threat to the West and the United States," he said.
For the past few years, experts have worried about a possible collaboration between the two leading militant groups. However, ethnic ties between al-Qaida and ISIS in Mali, Niger and Burkina Faso have resulted in the alarming new collaboration in the Sahel. Speaking further, Anderson said that, in other parts of the world the two have different objectives and perspectives and are often into conflict. However, in the Sahel region, the two are able to overcome and work for a common purpose. He added that the presence of government in the region is sparse and frustration in people is high which enables them to appeal to a larger number of audiences.
Anderson, while comparing the two, reportedly stated that al-Qaida is a deeper threat than ISIS, both regionally and globally. He said Islamic State is much more aggressive and blunt, and so in some ways, they appear to be the greater threat. “But al-Qaida, which continues to quietly expand, is for us the longer strategic concern," he added.
“al-Qaida has been successful in consolidating efforts in northern Mali and moving south into more populated areas and taking various groups and galvanizing them together into a coherent movement," Anderson said. According to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, al-Qaida’s most prominent affiliate is a coalition of Qaida-linked groups known as JNIM with about 2,000 fighters in the region. Meanwhile, the largest IS affiliate is the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara which emerged more recently as compared to al-Qaida affiliates.
(With AP inputs)