ISIS West Africa’s tactical successes and support in Nigeria have given the group the ability to expand its influence throughout the Sahel in the coming months, threatening US economic interests in the region, including direct investment opportunities. ISIS West Africa, formed in 2016 following a split with Boko Haram, operates primarily in Nigeria and the Lake Chad region and maintains an estimated 5,000 fighters, according to open-source reporting.
As of February, ISIS West Africa holds “hundreds of square miles of territory” in Northeastern Nigeria, where it controls “trade routes, taxes the local fish industry, regulates agriculture, and imposes its extremist brand” as ISIS leadership instructs its West African affiliate to target local forces and nongovernmental organizations, according to open-source reporting.
From January to mid-February, ISIS released official communications claiming its West African affiliate conducted at least 25 attacks targeting Nigerian troops. In November, ISIS West Africa attacked five military bases over three days. In one of the attacks, the group killed almost 100 Nigerian soldiers and looted weapons and equipment from the bases it successfully captured.
In January, ISIS West Africa released a video titled, “Immigration and Fighting.” The video featured ISIS West Africa fighters calling for supporters to immigrate to the region and propagated the idea that joining its fight is a religious obligation. The video also featured footage of the group conducting operations. ISIS Libya is reportedly sending weapons to its West African counterpart, with many fighters returning to West Africa from Libya and the Middle East, according to the media.