Africa Security Brief No. 41: Strengthening Sahelian Counterinsurgency Strategy – Mali


By Michael Shurkin
July 25, 2022

Adapting Sahelian force structures to lighter, more mobile, and integrated units will better support the population-centric COIN practices needed to reverse the escalating trajectory of violent extremist attacks.


  • Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger have experienced a near uninterrupted expansion in militant Islamist violence over the past decade, underscoring the need for an alternative security strategy. Central to this is the recognition that these violent extremist groups employ irregular tactics and operate as local insurgencies, requiring a sustained counterinsurgency campaign.

  • Elevating the effectiveness of Sahelian forces will require a more integrated, mobile, and population-centric force structure bolstered by enhanced logistical and air support capabilities.

  • Building positive relations with local populations is not just a question of morality or legitimacy but also an essential means of weakening support to insurgents.

Militant Islamist violence in the Sahel is accelerating faster than in any other region in Africa. After nearly a decade of conflict, violent events in the Sahel (specifically Burkina Faso, Mali, and western Niger) are surging—with a 140-percent increase since 2020 and no signs of abatement. Militant Islamist group violence against civilians in the Sahel represents 60 percent of all such violence in Africa and is projected to increase by more than 40 percent in 2022.1 This uninterrupted escalation of violence has displaced more than 2.5 million people and is on pace to kill more than 8,000 individuals in 2022 (see Figure 1 in the PDF).

Government control over the vast rugged territory has diminished over the years, revealing an inability to sustain pressure on militant Islamist groups and to provide security for communities. Sahelian security forces have suffered heavy losses in the conflict. Militants have successfully targeted security and defense forces in their attacks throughout Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger. Superior mobility and intelligence capabilities have allowed the militant groups to overrun static military bases, resulting in hundreds of casualties among armed forces….