The United States' Struggles and Failures in Countering Terrorism in Africa

The United States' Struggles and Failures in Countering Terrorism in Africa

Escalating Attacks, Militant Groups, and Coups Undermine American Efforts in the War on Terror

Posted by on November 16, 2023 66

The United States' Global War on Terror is encountering several setbacks and failures, specifically in the Middle East. However, the biggest failure appears to be in Africa. In an effort to combat terrorism in the region, the US has provided security assistance, training for African military officers, and established various outposts. Despite these initiatives, militant Islamist groups in Africa have witnessed a staggering increase in their attacks, experiencing a spike of 75,000% since the US escalated its counterterrorism operations on the continent.

In contrast, the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq initially displayed military success but ultimately transformed into unsuccessful occupations. The objective was to build national armies in both countries to assume responsibility for confronting enemy forces, yet these forces eventually crumbled. Similarly, in Africa, the US provided support and training to African troops, established bases, and deployed drones and special operations forces in multiple nations. Regrettably, the decision to overthrow Libyan dictator Muammar el-Qaddafi in 2011 led to Libya's destabilization and ignited insurgencies in Mali and the Sahel region. President Obama later acknowledged the US intervention in Libya as a failure. The situation worsened in the region due to a rebellion by Tuareg fighters in Mali, coupled with a military coup.

Overall, the United States has encountered significant failures in its counterterrorism endeavors, with Africa proving to be an especially challenging area.After Mali's democratically elected government was overthrown, Sanogo and his group of military leaders proved ineffective in combating terrorists. The country fell into a state of turmoil, with Tuareg fighters declaring independence, only to be quickly taken over by heavily armed Islamists who enforced strict Shariah law. This led to a dire humanitarian crisis. However, a joint mission involving France, the United States, and African nations prevented a complete collapse of Mali and pushed the militants towards the border areas near Burkina Faso and Niger.

Following these events, terrorist groups in the Sahel region of West Africa have caused constant trouble for neighboring countries, undergoing evolution and regrouping over time. These militants, armed with Kalashnikovs and riding motorcycles, frequently invade villages to impose Islamic taxes, steal livestock, and terrorize innocent civilians. Destabilization and violence have spread beyond Burkina Faso, Mali, and Niger to their southern neighbors along the Gulf of Guinea. The Pentagon has reported an alarming surge in violence in Togo and Benin, with a 633% and 718% increase, respectively, in the past year alone.

Despite receiving training from the United States, the regional military forces have failed to put an end to these attacks, resulting in horrifying suffering for civilians. In the early 2000s, Africa witnessed only 23 casualties from terrorist activities. However, this year, according to the Pentagon, terrorist attacks in the Sahel region have resulted in 9,818 deaths, marking a staggering 42,500% increase.

Simultaneously, the U.S.-trained military partners in the region have committed their own heinous atrocities, including extrajudicial killings. In 2020, a prominent politician in Burkina Faso openly acknowledged these actions, admitting that the security forces carried out such acts discreetly to boost military morale.

Ironically, the only noteworthy "success" achieved by American-assisted military personnel in the region has been the overthrow of the very governments they were trained to protect. Officers with ties to the United States have orchestrated at least 12 coups in countries like Burkina Faso, Chad, Gambia, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger throughout the war on terror. In the aftermath of these coups, individuals who received U.S. training, like the five U.S.-trained members of the Nigerien security forces, have been appointed as governors.

These military coups not only undermine American objectives but also pave the way for the emergence of figures like Goïta, who had previously collaborated with U.S. Special Operations forces, participated in training exercises, and studied at a U.S. military institution before overthrowing Mali's government in 2020. Initially assuming the position of vice president in a transitional government aiming to restore civilian rule, Goïta seized power again in 2021.

During that same year, Goïta's junta reportedly authorized the involvement of Russian-linked Wagner mercenary forces in the fight against Islamist militants, after years of unsuccessful Western-backed counterterrorism efforts. Since then, Wagner, a paramilitary group founded by a deceased Russian oligarch, has been implicated in severe human rights abuses, alongside the long-supported Malian military. This includes a massacre in 2022 that resulted in the deaths of 500 civilians.American military assistance to Mali is still ongoing, despite the recent coups led by Goïta in 2020 and 2021. Although certain forms of U.S. security aid were suspended, funding from American tax dollars to support Mali's forces has not ceased. In fact, the U.S. provided over $16 million in security assistance to Mali in 2020, and nearly $5 million in 2021. Additionally, $2 million has been awaiting approval for transfer to Mali.

In contrast, U.S. military efforts in Somalia have seen little progress or success. While there are terrorist affiliates of Al Qaeda and indigenous groups in the region, they have not carried out acts of terrorism beyond Somalia's borders. Nevertheless, American troops have been deployed in Somalia for over two decades, primarily targeting the Islamist militant group known as al-Shabaab. Billions of dollars have been provided in counterterrorism assistance, with numerous airstrikes conducted. However, these actions have inadvertently contributed to the perpetuation of conflict in Somalia rather than resolving it.

Unfortunately, despite initial claims of increased security and stability, the situation has deteriorated significantly. There has been a substantial rise in terror attacks and casualties. The Africa Center for Strategic Studies reported a 50-percent increase in fatalities associated with militant Islamist groups in the Sahel and Somalia, surpassing previous records. Violent events linked to these groups in Africa have quadrupled over the past ten years.

It is worth noting that the Global War on Terror, initiated by former President George W. Bush in 2001 with the objective of eliminating terrorism, has not achieved its desired outcome. Instead, terrorist groups have continued to proliferate and expand across Africa and other regions.

How Coups Are Derailing the US War on Terror in Africa

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