Terrorist groups like Nigeria’s Boko Haram, Somalia’s Al-Shabab, and Ansar al-Dine in Mali have been sowing chaos in one way or another and show no signs of letting up. On the contrary, they seem to be growing more active.The Pentagon has noticed and is upping America’s commitment to stability in Africa. But not in the way you might think:
Threats continue on the continent, but budgets are tightening at home, and the appetite to send large American armies to foreign conflicts is small. So, the Obama administration is focusing on training and advising African troops to deal with their own security threats, or providing help to European allies that have historical ties and forces in the region.
American officials and their partners call it enabling, a way of shifting from being a major combatant in war zones to a supporting role to local and other international forces.
One need only look at polling data on support for intervention in Syria to see that Americans’ appetite for foreign military engagements is low. But the threat from insurgent groups throughout Africa remains serious. Niger, which borders Mali, Libya, Algeria, and Nigeria’s troubled north, is particularly vulnerable. In that country, the United States has committed $33 million over the past two years to strengthening the country’s counterterrorism capabilities and has plans to train an 850-man special forces battalion there.American economic interests in Africa—mainly oil and natural resources—are threatened when Islamists take over entire regions or seize gas plants, for example. Teaching a man to fish is more often than not better than giving a man a fish, but as the threat from Islamic militancy grows in Africa, the U.S. may eventually have to take control of the rod.