Violent extremism continues to be one of the most significant challenges to peace and security in the Sahel. Militant Islamist groups have shown remarkable staying power despite their military rout in northern Mali in 2013 following the deployment of French-led Operation Serval (now Operation Barkhane). Indeed, violent extremist groups in the Sahel have grown in number, size, and lethality—now concentrated in central Mali, northeastern Burkina Faso, and western Niger.

Anouar Boukhars
Boukhars is a nonresident fellow in Carnegie’s Middle East Program. He is a professor of countering violent extremism and counter-terrorism at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, National Defense University.
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Largely absent from this narrative is Mauritania. The story of Mauritania’s transformation from the weakest link in this crisis-ridden neighborhood to one of its most resilient is instructive. The country was the first in the Sahel to be hit by terrorist attacks in 2005. However, since 2011 it has avoided the expanding and diversifying threat from militant Islamist groups. That security threats in the Sahel are characterized by layers of intertwined and crosscutting interests at the local, national, and regional levels makes Mauritania’s example all the more informative. Importantly, the government has managed to restore its authority and control over border regions, which militant Islamist groups in the Sahel have often exploited to their advantage....

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This article was originally published by the Africa Center for Strategic Studies