Mauritania remained a strong U.S. security and regional counterterrorism partner in 2018. Since 2011, when U.S. engagement with Mauritanian security forces greatly increased and Mauritanian forces defeated al-Qa’ida elements in three separate battles, Mauritania has not suffered a terrorist attack, despite continuing terrorist violence in neighboring Mali. Al-Qa’ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) elements and other like-minded terrorist groups continued to exist along Mauritania’s southeastern border with Mali. These groups’ activities presented the greatest terrorist threat to Mauritania in 2018. On May 8, AQIM issued a statement calling for increased attacks. The statement mentioned Mauritania and defined the Islamic Maghreb to include Mauritania. After an August 10 incident involving drug traffickers in the northeast of Mauritania, the Mauritanian army sent more troops to reinforce its presence along the Malian border. It remained unclear to what extent the individuals arrested for trafficking were supporting or financing terrorist groups through their illicit activity.
There were no reported terrorist incidents in Mauritania in 2018. On 27 February 2018, the Nouakchott Criminal Court sentenced 11 suspects to prison on terrorism-related charges for periods ranging from five to 10 years. The individuals were convicted for forming an ISIS-affiliated cell and planning to carry out acts of terror aimed at disrupting the Arab League Summit Mauritania hosted in 2016.
The Government of Mauritania relies on a multi-faceted counterterrorism approach that includes community outreach initiatives, religious dialogue, capacity improvements for security forces, and activities aimed at securing the country’s borders. The government continued its counterterrorism cooperation with the United States in 2018 and welcomed opportunities to participate in U.S.-sponsored counterterrorism trainings.
Mauritania Armed Forces and Law Enforcement Services worked with U.S. authorities to track, monitor, and counter terrorist groups, including AQIM, ISIS, and Jamaat Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM). Through support from the United States and other counterterrorism partners, such as France, Mauritania deployed 20,000 soldiers across the country, divided across seven military zones. Despite these efforts, regions in the interior of Mauritania remained imperfectly monitored, owing to their geographic isolation from population centers and inhospitable desert conditions. These difficult environmental conditions continue to facilitate latent terrorist activities by various groups, who have used Mauritanian media outlets to broadcast communiqués and propaganda videos.
Border security remained inadequate because of a standing policy that accords responsibility for different sections of the country’s land borders to different formations of the security forces. Owing to the security forces’ geographic isolation from population centers, hard-to-access areas of the Sahara Desert further complicated efforts to monitor and secure borders. The Department of State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program, in cooperation with the U.S. Embassy’s Regional Security Office and host-nation forces, provided training for more than 150 police officers, gendarmerie, customs personnel, prosecutors, judges, and high-level government officials.
The Mauritanian government continued to support Countering Violent Extremism programs and offer alternatives to individuals it perceived as at-risk. During 2018, the Ministry of Islamic Affairs and Traditional Education (MIATE) hosted a seminar on terrorism, aimed at “diagnosing the root causes of extremism” and methods of treatment. MIATE also continued to collaborate with independent Islamic religious groups to counter radicalization to violence across all 15 provinces. The southern Mauritanian city of Kiffa is a member of the Strong Cities Network.
Nouakchott served as host to the headquarters of the G-5 Sahel, which includes Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger. Mauritania was responsible for the western sector of the G-5 Sahel Joint Force located along the border between Mauritania and Mali. On July 12, the G-5 appointed Deputy Chief of Staff of the Mauritanian army, General Ould Sidi Hanana, to lead the G-5 Sahel Joint Force, replacing a Malian, Didier Dacko, as head of the command. On October 15, the Nouakchott-based G-5 Sahel Defense Academy officially welcomed its first class of 37 mid-career officers from the five Sahel countries, whose training lasted for nine months. The training focused on organizing operations and carrying out combat missions, particularly in the fragile border regions linking the five countries. On December 6, Mauritania hosted the first G-5 Sahel donor coordination conference in Nouakchott, aimed at raising funds to support development activities to counter the extreme poverty-insecurity nexus that allows terrorist activity to flourish. Mauritania is a member of NATO’s Mediterranean Dialogue.
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