Continue Turning up the Heat!

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abubaker shekau

Abubakar Shekau. Image from AFP.

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The al-Qaeda brand of terrorism possibly suffered another defeat at the hand of the Nigerian military. Unconfirmed reports indicate that Abubakar Shekau was killed in a firefight with Nigerian troops. Shekau is(was) the current leader of the Islamic Extremist terrorist organization, Boko Haram. While few have decided to weigh in on the reverberations of this victory, it is appropriate to speculate as to the future of Islamic extremist inspired terrorism on the African continent.

The confirmed kill of Shekau would be the second such victory of the West and its African proxies over Islamic extremists in this same calendar year. The previous victory was the successful killing of Abdelhamid Abou Zeid, a top field commander for al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), by Chadian troops.  This recent string of victories has done much to calm US fears of a resurgent al-Qaeda organization on the continent. This belief is strengthened by the fact that AQIM had a communication intercepted wherein they thoroughly harangued the deceased Zeid for his “laziness,” and “lack of initiative.”

Some have long since declared the al-Qaeda brand a dead organization and these recent victories may confirm this belief to some; however, such thinking is dangerous to the national security interests of the United States, and to adopt such an attitude would be tantamount to asking history to repeat itself. With the severe weakening of the Taliban after the blitzkrieg of US military and Special Forces through Afghanistan, a similar attitude was adopted by the Bush administration and the Taliban was allowed to slowly build back its political and military clout in such a way that absolute victory was denied the coalition forces.

In the case of Africa, the US should continue to support Western Allies (such as France) and friendly African nations (such as Nigeria, Somalia, Ethiopia, and Algeria) in combatting terrorists with aggressive ground campaigns of French and/or regional troops supported by US aerial intelligence and surveillance.

The US would do well to elevate this theatre of its counter-terror campaigns so as to place more money and resources into securing the political situation of these African countries. To do so would allow for an optimum environment for the growth of economic and social indicators that are usually prerequisite for the foundation of stable civil societies as well as the decreased risk of terrorism—both domestic and transnational.

Such relatively simple policy options have a deeper strategic purpose. Some would say that the US should continue to ignore the African continent, and focus on securing and developing relationships with Asian/Pacific nations. Yet in giving more aid, both financial and military, to African nations it allows for the US to start competing with China for the coveted soft power that is necessary to effectively lead in international organizations and forums. This is not to say that as a nation, the US should stop working with Asia, rather the two should be done in coordination. China has been slowly chipping away at American influence in Africa for over a decade, and failure to address this decay is equivalent to ignoring one of the most important nascent strategic regions, and one of the greatest strategic failures of the past three presidencies.

french troops in mali

French troops in Mali. Image from AP/Jerome Daly.

Africa has only recently come onto the radar of American security forces because of the brief establishment of a fundamentalist Islamic State in Mali. This brief movement highlighted the potential international security risks posed by weak or failing nations who are unable to properly and completely secure their territory. The short life of the Islamic state also briefly established a nation unabashed in its love for jihadist and extremist elements, creating a territory that could have been used for training and planning the next stages of Islamic extremism’s jihad against the West. To help with the perspective, consider the following: the established Islamic territory in Mali was approximately the size of France.  In helping the struggling nations of Africa secure their territory, the US and its allies would be pushing extremist elements into smaller pockets of lawlessness that would theoretically be easier to manage and contain.

While there is a certain amount of political discomfort that accompanies any effort to increase military involvement in Africa, the time has come for the US to grow out of the pangs associated with embarrassing past policy outcomes and focus on the strategic needs of the day. This includes understanding and working in an increasingly connected international environment that requires planning of a strategic depth and that must encompass much more than short-termed policy initiatives.

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2 Responses to “Continue Turning up the Heat!”

  1. Skye Herrick Says:

    I would disagree that increasing financial and military aid to an entire continent is a simple policy decision. Financial aid is anything but easy and so far has little actual data supporting its positive outcome on development. I do agree that the United States should work with Africa more but disagree to the way you frame it especially since Africa is so huge. It’s extremely difficult to treat the entire continent as a single entity.

  2. Cameron H Says:

    Skye, i would agree with you that in practice it is not an easy policy option. As you already stated, giving financial aid has dubious outcomes. However it is important to keep in mind that the purpose of Praemon is to offer strategic commentary focused on the national security interests of the United States. Understandably this is only one lens out of many that any analyst could use to approach and understand a problem. I choose to focus on longer-term strategic security options and outcomes for the United States, not entirely sidelining the economic and political outcomes,just focusing on the security aspects. For a more in-depth look at the security side of the question I would suggest African Security and African Command, 11e by Terry Buss.