October 25, 2011.
An informal competition took place during the Bush years for the title of "second front" in the war on terror. Administration officials often referred to Southeast Asia as the next major franchise location for al-Qaeda, with the Philippines in particular slated to become the "next Afghanistan." Then there was the border between Brazil, Argentina, and Paraguay, which State Department officials termed a "focal point for Islamic extremism in Latin America." Worried about the spread of al-Qaeda operatives in North Africa, the Bush administration also developed the Pan-Sahel Initiative, which became the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative before finally being folded into the Pentagon's new Africa Command.
In none of these regions did a new Afghanistan in fact develop. Still, U.S. counter-terrorism operatives continue to ply their trade all over the map. The "second front" thesis, meanwhile, is alive and well and living in Africa and its immediate environs.
Last summer, long before the assassination of Osama bin Laden, the CIA was already billing al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) as the most urgent threat to the United States. Beginning in May, the shadowy Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) began using drones to target AQAP leaders in Yemen, which lies across the Red Sea from the horn of Africa. The campaign escalated over the summer, culminating in the killing of AQAP leader, U.S. citizen Anwar al-Awlaki, at the end of last month. The administration has also emphasized the link between al-Qaeda and the al-Shabaab militias in Somalia – through AQAP as a go-between – and is now supporting Kenya's recent incursion into that country. Then there's the recent dispatch of U.S. Special Forces to central Africa, with Pentagon chief Leon Panetta worrying about "elements there that either have ties to al-Qaeda or that represent the forces of terrorism on their own." And plenty of pundits and politicians are urging the administration to address the prospect of radical Islamists taking over the North African countries liberated during the Arab Spring.
It might seem a strange time for all this terrorism talk to resurface. Osama bin Laden is dead, and his cohort in Pakistan is beleaguered. There are fewer than 100 al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda in Iraq is a spent force, and the Obama administration announced last week that all U.S. troops will be out of the country by year's end (though as many as a thousand may in fact remain behind).
After the first Gulf War, Colin Powell complained that the United States was running out of enemies to fight. Now, the United States is discovering that it might be running out of terrorists to fight as well.
Ah, but "terrorism" is a flexible term, and Africa is a big place. The "second front" thesis continues to thrive. But it’s just as full of hot air as before.
Read the rest here.
Comment: And some pundits were thinking that the US is not interested in the motherland.
I guess Libya was about human rights.
And now all of a sudden the US is interested in supporting Uganda's fight against LRA rebels. So they sending troops and military advisers.
And in Kenya the US is helping keep the tourism industry intact. They sent drones and fighter aircraft to help Kenya make sure that pasty-ass Europeans can go on safari and lay on the beach in Lamu.
And AFRICOM is just about everywhere on the continent.
Does that sound like an uninterested African foreign policy?