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The Global War on Terror is Far From Over—Now It's Wreaking Havoc in Africa

Recent US special forces raids in Libya and Somalia are the latest examples in a long history of intervention in Africa.

Two U.S. soldiers at a training exercise in South Africa.
Photo Credit: US Army Africa/Flickr


In the long run, it doesn't really matter which arch-terrorist was taken out and which one got away. The War on/of Terror will continue, especially in Africa, as it stands, US special operations forces managed to capture Abu-Anas al-Libi (real name: Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai), the alleged mastermind behind the deadly 1998 US Embassy attack in Kenya and Tanzania, without firing a shot.

In Somalia things apparently didn't go nearly as well. Soldiers of the al-Shabab militia beat back a US helicopter and an amphibian attack on a safe house reportedly containing one of their leaders, Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir, A Kenyan of Somali heritage who is believed to have plotted attacks on the Kenyan Parliament and local UN headquarters in Nairobi. It also is considered the last known address for Ahmed Abdi Godane, purported leader of the attack on Nairobi's Westgate Mall last month.

Had they captured Abdulkadir and missed al-Libi, would Americans be any safer? Would Africans?

A History of Engagement

Some of the earliest foreign military engagements in US history took place in Africa, and particularly in present-day Libya, beginning with the Barbary Wars of 1801-1815. The Continent was not a major theatre of engagement until World War Two and then the Cold War, during which the US record supporting corrupt and brutal dictators, military coups and governments, and insurgencies reflected the Sub-Saharan Africa's strategic importance as an East-West battleground that determined alliances and policies.

Libya housed a major US Air Force base until 1970, although its relations with the West deteriorated famously under Ghaddafi's forty-year rule until the rapprochement of the second half of the last decade. US strategic cooperation with Somalia grew towards the end of that decade, as the country's still Marxist government turned Westward after its Soviet patron chose to support Ethiopia during the 1977-78 Somali-Ethiopian war. With the Cold War, however, the US lost interest in the Somali government and without American support and patronage, the dictatorial rule of Siad Barre collapsed, and with it the Somali state.

The resulting chaos led to one of the first post-Cold War UN interventions and attempts at nation-building, which the US under President Bush and then Clinton supported under the guise of three missions: UNISOM I, UNITAF and UNISOM II from 1992-95. The ultimate failure of the missions was highlighted by the infamous Battle of Mogadishu and the "Black Hawk Down" incident in early October 1993, in which 18 US soldiers and hundreds of Somalis were killed. Somalia has essentially existed without a stable state for the last generation. As is well-known, such conditions are extremely conducive to the formation and spread of so-called radical religious and/or political groups.

Without discounting the role of extremist religious discourses in the spread of al-Qa'eda affiliated movements across Africa, it needs to be recalled here that all ideologically-grounded insurgencies, whether Maoist or Islamist, spread and take root as a result of economic conditions characterised not merely or even always by endemic poverty, but by a (usually rapid) rise in disparities in wealth, income and political power within societies that includes the immiseration of groups that previously enjoyed greater levels of basic human security.

In Somalia, as in most of the developing world, the primary culprit has been decades of structural adjustment that fundamentally transformed—in fact, devastated—the largely pastoral economy as well as the agricultural sector. This occurred on top of decades of single-party pseudo Marxist rule characterised by official corruption and state-(mis)managed enterprises. Adding even more fuel to the fire was over a decade of unconditional US military aid, which provided much of the arms used by warring factions once the state began to crumble beginning in the late 1980s.

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