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United States Counterterrorism Strategy In the Trans-Sahara and the Rise of Salafi-Jihadism In the Sahel

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Technical Report

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Naval Postgraduate School Monterey United States

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In the wake of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, it became apparent to U.S. foreign policy makers that Northwest Africa was more than just a humanitarian concern. This realization led to the establishment of a multi-pronged, multi-year counterterrorism strategy in the Trans-Sahara region that incorporated diplomacy, development, and defense. Despite these unprecedented efforts, the Sahel sub-region has witnessed a steady rise in the presence of Salafi-Jihadist organizations since 2003. Furthermore, the states in the region remain incapable of defending against these organizations without significant outside assistance. This thesis examines the efficacy of U.S. counterterrorism strategy in the region vis--vis African states capacity to explain the persisting Salafi-Jihadist organizations in the region. Exploring Salafi-Jihadisms ideological, doctrinal, and historical aspects illustrates that these organizations have limited interest in political solutions. The thesis uses Nigeria, Mali, and Mauritania as three case studies to examine the period between 2001 and 2014 to demonstrate how Salafi-Jihadisms components have successfully exploited these states limited capacity, thereby undermining U.S. counterterrorism efforts. The thesis concludes by considering the impacts that these conclusions will have on future counterterrorism initiatives.

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