The African battle space is not the Middle East [Commentary]
 

December 2017

When Donald Trump was elected U.S. president, speculation as to what this meant for African security was rife. The uncertainty persists among policymakers and analysts alike. But the indicators are already there, if anyone cares to look. President Trump announced to the U.N. General Assembly that he had “changed the rules of engagement in our fight against the Taliban and other terrorist groups.” In making such a statement, the new playbook for American counterterrorism became open to rule changes. An October firefight in Niger between militants affiliated with the Islamic State group and forces from the U.S. and Niger showed that American Green Berets were already on the ground in Africa, fighting an underreported war against terrorists. The collapse of ISIS in the Middle East and the end of large-scale military operations in Iraq and — in the Near East — Afghanistan has resulted in a trickle of military refocus to Africa. Reports of ISIS-linked individuals spreading throughout Africa, searching for ties and funding, combined with the recent reports of a Niger firefight between Green Berets and violent extremists are proof enough that Africa is not only the next battle space for the United States, but that it has already begun.

The threat of radical militant groups in Africa has grown considerably in recent years. The persistence of Boko Haram, AQIM and ISIS-linked groups ranges virtually the entire continent. With the exception of southern Africa, there is no single region unaffected by significant terrorist threats, both active and emerging. Many African police services have struggled to combat regular sources of crime, let alone radical extremism. Even in South Africa, a secure hegemony — arguably — the police minister requested military assistance to combat gangs in Cape Town. What hope then of regular security forces countering violent terrorism?

American counterterrorism policy under U.S. President Barack Obama tended to possess an expeditionary attitude about it. Limited raids supplemented by widespread use of drone strikes certainly contributed to the body count but did little to curtail the expansion of terrorism groups. Although killing enemy terrorists may seem like a productive use of American military force and taxpayer dollars, many African extremism hubs not only remain active locally but actively seek international terrorism links through financing, training and the creation of global networks that threaten U.S. borders. In the fight against terrorism, drone warfare provided the period at the end of a sentence that should be filled in by highly skilled, highly motivated troops on the ground.

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