Groups linked to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State , at war with each other in the Middle East, are working together to take control of territory across a vast stretch of West Africa , US and local officials say, sparking fears the regional threat could grow into a global crisis. Fighters appear to be coordinating attacks and carving out mutually agreed-upon areas of influence in the Sahel, a strip of land south of the Sahara desert. The militants have wielded increasingly sophisticated tactics in recent months as they have rooted deeper into Mali , Niger and Burkina Faso , ambushing army bases and dominating villages with surprising force, according to interviews with more than a dozen senior officials and military leaders from the United States, France and West Africa. The Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which staged the attack that killed four American soldiers in Niger, is also thought to be hundreds strong and recruiting combatants in northeastern Mali. The warnings come as the Pentagon weighs pulling forces from West Africa, where about 1, troops provide intelligence and drone support, among other forms of military help. At a US-led training exercise this week in coastal Mauritania, officials said the Defence Department has made no decision as it considers shifting resources to the Asia-Pacific region to counter China and Russia. France, which has about 4, troops in West Africa — the most of any foreign partner by far — has urged the United States to stay in the battle and other European powers to step up. The United Nations has about 13, peacekeepers in Mali alone.
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