Sahel violence threatens West African coastal states

Benin, a small coastal country in West Africa, has been relatively unscathed from a security crisis that has wreaked havoc in its northern neighbours across the Sahel region for much of the past decade.

However, fears are growing over a spillover of violence within its borders as armed groups operating in the landlocked Sahel countries push for expansion into coastal states.

Last month, President Patrice Talon pledged his government will be “more determined and more vigilant” in the face of growing threats. It came after Beninise military officials said two soldiers were killed and several others wounded when fighters attacked a military post in the northern Atacora region, near the border with Burkina Faso.

The al-Qaeda-linked Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) armed group claimed responsibility for the attack, saying in a message shared across social platforms it killed four soldiers. Two other attacks have been reported in recent months in the same border area where JNIM has been active, although these have not been confirmed.

Michael Matongbada, a Beninese researcher at Institute for Security Studies (ISS), said the rare hit-and-run on Atacora was the first attack to be claimed by an armed group in the country.

“The expansion of groups beyond their initial areas of operation and influence in the Sahel region is a reality to be acknowledged,” Matongbada told Al Jazeera.

Such an expansion, however, has not affected only Benin. A number of other West African coastal states have faced a growing number of border attacks, raising fears over the expansion of armed groups affiliated with ISIL (ISIS) and al-Qaeda in the region.



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