Im Report No 289 Africa der ICG vom 03.06.20 wird über die laufenden Militäraktionen der Armee des Niger und der französischen Berkhane-Truppen gegen das Erstarken islamistischer Milizen im Norden von Tillabery berichtet, nördlich der Hauptstadt Niamey im Grenzgebiet zu Mali.

Nach einer Militäroffensive gegen den „Islamischen Staat“, die von 2017 bis Mitte 2018 angedauert hatte, hatten Teile der Regierung um den nigrischen Innenminister versucht, in den Kommunen Präsenz und Verhandlungsbereitschaft zu signalisieren und mit den Milizen in Verhandlungen zu treten. Diese Versuche wurden durch nigrische Militärs und französische Luftangriffe torpediert. Seit April 2019 haben die islamistischen Milizen sich neu formiert und neben 200 Sicherheitskräften mehrere Unterhändler und zahlreiche gesprächsbereite lokale Führer getötet.
The violence occurred amid a deterioration in intercommunal relations and a rash of score settling motivated by local grievances. As the killings cleared the ground of many important local community leaders allied with the government, the Islamic State also conducted a series of heavy strikes against military positions.“

Dann der 13. Januar 2020:

In 13 January 2020, at a summit in the French city of Pau hosted by President Emmanuel Macron, France, Niger and other Sahelian governments issued a joint statement calling for strengthening military capabilities in the region and agreeing to target the Islamic State in the Sahel as a matter of priority. The communiqué also called for the state’s return to conflict-affected territories and increased development assistance.

Seither haben die französischen und nigrischen Truppen eine neue Offensive gestartet.

Following the lethal attacks at the end of 2019, and an initial retreat, Niamey has attempted to regain ground in brutal counter-terrorism operations with the support of and possibly under pressure from France, which maintains thousands of troops in the region. The new military push has already led to an alarming escalation in alleged killings of civilians by security forces, however, creating a situation that jihadists could exploit to win more recruits. A similar situation occurred in 2017-2018, when Niger partnered with Malian ethnic militias that were considered rivals to certain ethnic communities, particularly the Peul, many of whom allied with the Islamic State as a result. Niamey should not make the same, or similar, mistakes again, especially now that it faces a COVID-19 pandemic that threatens to weaken or even immobilise its government and military while also reducing the capacity of the authorities and monitoring organisations to keep an eye on the behaviour of troops on the ground.

Der Report geht auf Entwicklung der islamischen Milizen der Region ausführlich ein und auf die Bedingungen, unter denen von Außen kommende Agitatoren die Unterstützung der lokalen Bevölkerung gewinnen. Die systematische Benachteiligung der Peul durch Teile der Regierung und durch das Offizierscorps der Armee spielt dabei eine wesentliche Rolle.

Border communities, which have learned to live by the gun in the last two decades, have become increasingly hostile to the state. Niger’s government has recently made attempts to woo them back but failed to achieve key goals. Multiple uncoordinated and overlapping state-led dialogue and disarmament initiatives have led to confusion. State-backed efforts to recruit locals into the security forces have also been compromised by nepotism and corruption, resulting in poor recruitment numbers from some constituencies, notably the Peul. It has thus become harder to persuade border zone residents that the government can offer them more than the jihadists, who increasingly present themselves as the state’s competition in governance. Nor have locals convinced many of the Islamic State’s rank and file to surrender, as Niamey hoped its outreach would sway them to do.

In northern Tillabery, as elsewhere in the Sahel, an excessive focus on counter-terrorism has however resulted in the overuse of military tools for a conflict that is fundamentally driven by inter- and intra-communal competition over rights and resources, which the Islamic State has exploited. Counter-terrorism strategies seeking to weaken jihadist groups are neither illegitimate nor unfounded, but the way they have been conducted in Niger has often enflamed the situations they seek to calm. These strategies have, for example, accelerated the militarisation of border communities and fuelled the stigmatisation of members of the Peul nomadic group, whom other local communities often regard as the Islamic State’s closest collaborators on the ground. They have also led to killings of civilians who are accused of being or are mistaken for Islamic State elements. As Niamey mounts a new counter-terrorism push in response to the surging violence along the border, local communities in northern Tillabery are already alleging that military operations have caused scores of civilian deaths.

Locals also often perceive the Islamic State as a ruling authority competent in resolving land disputes and providing services like protecting livestock against raiders.  Cattle rustling is the foremost concern for nomads living along the border, where loss of herds in a raid can devastate a family for decades.  Locals say Nigerien security forces do little to prevent raids or recover stolen animals.  In return for this measure of order and protection, civilians tolerate the zakat (or taxes) taken by the Islamic State, which they prefer to the razzia (or raids) inflicted on them previously.  The Islamic State has thus won the loyalty of local nomadic warriors, such as Doundoun Cheffou and Petit Chafori. They are both Peul pastoralists who first took up arms to advance their own interests and to protect their livestock from Tuareg and Daosahak raiders, but who now command complex Islamic State attacks against national and foreign targets.

some Peul in particular see the Islamic State affiliate as a necessary bulwark against a state that has preyed upon them.  “Many Peul believe that were it not for Sahraoui, they would be dead”, said a notable Peul, referring to the protection his community received from Sahraoui during the state-sponsored counter-terror campaigns of July 2017 and February 2018, which killed Peul civilians. […] given that key local Islamic State commanders are drawn from the border communities and therefore likely joined the jihadist group out of political and economic self-interest, the government should develop policies that aim to address their concerns and seek to coax them away from the group.

Aus den Politikempfehlungen der ICG seien hier diejenigen herausgegriffen, die sich auf Landnutzung und die Einhegungsprozesse beziehen – also auf eine der wichtigsten Gründe für die andauernden Konflikte, sowie auf die Maßnahmen eines Lockdown, der über die Region Tillabery verhängt wurde:

As it seeks to push back against the Islamic State, Niger should consider the impact of its economic policies on its efforts to build stronger ties to border communities and look for ways to use the former in the service of the latter. First, it should consider rolling back or softening heavy-handed measures to curb population movements and market activity, which were imposed for security purposes, but which risk further weakening fragile economies in northern Tillabery. Secondly, Niamey should encourage its development partners to channel aid into projects in northern Tillabery that lie far afield from security installations (where much aid currently flows). Thirdly, Niger should develop plans to mitigate conflicts related to land use management, one of the strongest underlying causes of the conflict. […]

On 1 January, an unpopular motorbike ban went into effect in the Tillabery region. While the security motive was clear – motorbikes are integral to Islamic State operations – they are also the most common mode of transport for the area’s residents. At a civil society meeting in Tillabery on 29 February, participants denounced the ban as both unevenly applied and ineffective, pointing to zones where security forces let bandits circulate freely on motorbikes and noting that seven attacks killing more than 100 took place in the weeks after the ban’s rollout. There are other problems. The ban affects security forces, many of whom live kilometres away from their bases and use motorbikes to get to work. It is also extremely disruptive to livelihoods, making it hugely challenging for many in the region to get to work or do their jobs. […]

The closure of markets that the authorities assess feed Islamic State supply chains is further squeezing the rural economy, without a clear benefit for the counter-insurgency effort. […]

When the military closed the border, sealing off three commercial routes between Mali and Niger, an immediate spike in youth unemployment fuelled fears that unemployed young traders would join the jihadists. […]

As noted above, much intercommunal conflict in Niamey’s border region is rooted in resource competition, particularly relating to land. For this reason, the state should work with communities and donors to enforce land use legislation already on the books that could mitigate resource conflicts.
Some of these conflicts relate to farmer-herder tensions, which are a source of instability in Niger and elsewhere in the region, such as Nigeria. Between 2008 and 2014, almost 28,500 sq km of pastoralist land throughout Niger were lost to ranchers, extractive industry concessions and illegal land deals. Nomads in the region are coming under increasing pressure from the encroachment of farmers upon officially allocated grazing lands. While Niamey has developed robust legislation to protect the land rights of nomadic herders, these policies are inadequately enforced, in part due to the state’s inability to regulate areas experiencing violent conflict. Pastoralists are often uninformed about their rights to defend their lands under the laws that exist.

„Sidelining the Islamic State in Niger’s Tillabery“