The U.S. military’s operations in Africa is expanding under AFRICOM

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A U.S. Air Force Special aviator deployed in support of Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa rides in an HH-60G pavehawk helicopter during training conducted in East Africa (Source: AFRICOM)

The U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) is seeking authority to carry out drone strikes in Kenya, to target Al-Shabab fighters. This could permit AFRICOM “to expand the counterterrorism drone war” into Kenya. The latest news indicates that U.S. military operations are not likely to diminish anytime soon. While the U.S. military has claimed to have a “light” foot-print across the continent, its expansive counter-terrorism operations and the number of its military bases say otherwise. Currently, AFRICOM has 29 U.S. military bases across the continent and according to its website, it “counters transnational threats and malign actors, strengthens security forces” and works to “promote regional security, stability, and prosperity.” From drone strikes and surveillance to military training and arms sales, the U.S. military is heavily involved throughout the African continent, including in Somalia, Burkina Faso, Niger, Mali, Chad, Central African Republic, and Cameroon, just to name a few. In Somalia, the U.S. military has carried out a record number of airstrikes and the numbers are likely to rise.

While AFRICOM frames its role as assisting African countries in responding to security threats such as violent extremism, it is not clear that this militarized approach to counter-terrorism has been effective or successful in reducing the number of terrorist attacks and the expansion of terrorist groups. Activities of Islamic militant groups have doubled since 2013 and terrorist attacks continue to increase amid the coronavirus pandemic. According to the U.S. Department of Defense’s Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS), there were “3,471 reported violent events” linked to Islamist militant groups in the past year, showing “a 14-percent increase over the previous 12 months.” This increase in violent extremism has actually followed the substantial increase in U.S. military involvement in Africa dating back to the launch of AFRICOM in 2007. Moreover, America’s post 9/11 war on terror has displaced 37 million people across the globe, with 4.2 million people displaced in Somalia alone.

The fact that the U.S. spends more money on the military operations it carries out in African countries than the health aid it provides to the same countries speaks volumes about where Washington’s priorities lie. Many are arguing that America must end its militarized approach to fighting terrorism in Africa. Gordon Adams, a Distinguished Fellow at the Quincy Institute argues that the U.S. must end its counter-terror operations in Africa, saying that “there is growing evidence that they are counterproductive, generating more terrorists than they eliminate and exacerbating instability.”

Salih Booker, President of the Center for International Policy puts it well when he says:

“The Pentagon may be able to provide weapons, training and vehicles to African militaries, but it can’t offer trade deals, infrastructure projects or advice on agriculture. The U.S. military may attempt, with varying levels of success, to professionalize African militaries, but it can’t work with civilian governments, political parties or social movements to promote democracy and human rights.”

It is time to reassess the U.S. strategy towards fighting terrorism across Africa and for a U.S. foreign policy centered around increasing peaceful engagement through diplomacy and cooperating with governments to address the underlying social, economic, and political problems that contribute to terrorism in the first place.

Compiled by Nani Detti, Communications Intern

Africa Program

The Center for International Policy Africa Program analyzes U.S. foreign policy toward the nations of Africa to promote greater positive U.S. engagement

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