© 2016, Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg. The second West African Monsoon Modeling and Evaluation Project Experiment (WAMME II) is designed to improve understanding of the possible roles and feedbacks of sea surface temperature (SST), land use land cover change (LULCC), and aerosols forcings in the Sahel climate system at seasonal to decadal scales. The project’s strategy is to apply prescribed observationally based anomaly forcing, i.e., “idealized but realistic” forcing, in simulations by climate models. The goal is to assess these forcings’ effects in producing/amplifying seasonal and decadal climate variability in the Sahel between the 1950s and the 1980s, which is selected to characterize the great drought period of the last century. This is the first multi-model experiment specifically designed to simultaneously evaluate such relative contributions. The WAMME II models have consistently demonstrated that SST forcing is a major contributor to the twentieth century Sahel drought. Under the influence of the maximum possible SST forcing, the ensemble mean of WAMME II models can produce up to 60 % of the precipitation difference during the period. The present paper also addresses the role of SSTs in triggering and maintaining the Sahel drought. In this regard, the consensus of WAMME II models is that both Indian and Pacific Ocean SSTs greatly contributed to the drought, with the former producing an anomalous displacement of the Intertropical Convergence Zone before the WAM onset, and the latter mainly contributes to the summer WAM drought. The WAMME II models also show that the impact of LULCC forcing on the Sahel climate system is weaker than that of SST forcing, but still of first order magnitude. According to the results, under LULCC forcing the ensemble mean of WAMME II models can produces about 40 % of the precipitation difference between the 1980s and the 1950s. The role of land surface processes in responding to and amplifying the drought is also identified. The results suggest that catastrophic consequences are likely to occur in the regional Sahel climate when SST anomalies in individual ocean basins and in land conditions combine synergistically to favor drought.