The perfect storm in Africa

A complacent African strategic plan, the downsizing of the US military force, and the growing terrorist activities in Sub-Saharan Africa create the perfect conditions for another mass casualty attack

Are Obama's defense cuts adding the perfect storm in Africa?
Melissa S. Gresham
On 6 August 2012 13:44

The Cold Front

The Heritage Foundation sponsored a panel discussion on An Assessment of the Obama Administration’s Africa Strategy last week where 3 experts gave insight into the current situation of African policy. The general consensus concluded that Africa is a complex situation that presents both problems and opportunity.

Lack of resources dedicated to Africa, complacency in policy content, and shifting priorities prevent the Obama Administration from developing a long-term strategic plan rather than the contingent short term crisis management plan that has been in place for decades. The plan focuses on democratization, economic factors, and humanitarian missions; additionally it is an evaluation of the current process rather than producing actionable results to fit the current opportunities available.

Ambassador Mark Bellamy discussed some challenges to Africa that need to be addressed further by the strategic plan in Africa. The terrorism growth, transnational threats, and lack of government stability are among those concerns.

A large number of foreign fighters have joined al-Shabaab in Somalia; al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) continues to attack government targets in the Sub-Saharan region; and Boko Haram’s jihadist drive in Nigeria all destabilize governments and allow terrorist organizations a strong hold on territory. A bigger destabilizing effect preventing stable governance and democratization is the transnational threats such as criminal activity, drug trafficking, arms smuggling, and increased corruption.

High Pressure System

Senator McCain discussed with Fox News’ Sean Hannity last week the effects automatic defense cuts will have on our homeland security. As President of the United States, President Obama has an obligation to preserve the military; cutting that force will be “devastating to National Security” and hamper our ability to protect the nation.

McCain concluded: “This is a president who does not understand America’s role in the world and requirement for a strong military.” Reducing the military will leave America vulnerable and ill-prepared to respond to terrorist attacks and it provides an opportunity for those who wish to destroy our culture, freedom, and security.

Hurricane Grace

Much attention has been focused on Somalia and countering the threat of al-Shabaab. Resources have been sent to neighboring countries to assist the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) in its fight against the terrorist organization. It was estimated between 2007 and 2009 more than $200 million in weapons and ammunition has been sent to the region to help counter the al-Shabaab threat.

Even with these efforts, the number of terrorist incidents last year increased throughout Africa by 11.5 percent. Additionally, with poverty levels high, many security and enforcement officers have been selling their U.S. provided weapons and ammunition that ultimately end up in the hands of al-Shabaab fighters.  

START shows a steady incline in terrorist incidents in the Sub-Saharan region. Between 2001 and 2004 the attacks remained relatively low averaging around 70 incidents per year, but from 2004 to 2010 they have progressively increased to reach 450 per year in 2010.

The Sub-Saharan region provides ideal circumstances for terrorist organizations. Lack of centralized governance leaves minimal law and order and allows the terrorist organizations to fill that gap. Foreign Policy Magazine ranked Somalia #1 for the fifth straight year as a failed state, followed by DR of Congo, Sudan, Chad, and Zimbabwe.  

The combination of failed governance with a continuous supply of weapons, provide a fertile breeding ground for terrorist organizational success.

The Perfect Storm

A complacent African strategic plan focusing on humanitarian aid rather than real threats, the downsizing of our military force, and the growing terrorist activities in Sub-Saharan Africa create the perfect conditions for another mass casualty attack. While some argue that attacks are internally focused on Africa, the names Ansar Dine and Boko Haram, for example, translate into “Defenders of Faith” and “Western Civilization is a Sin” which is self explanatory.

It would be naive to assume they will not plan attacks against Americans or on American soil. As Sun Tzu once remarked,

Attack him where he is unprepared, appear where you are not expected. You can be sure of succeeding in your attacks if you only attack places which are undefended. Hence that general is skillful in attack whose opponent does not know what to defend; and he is skillful in defense whose opponent does not know what to attack.  

Melissa S. Gresham is an Adjunct Instructor at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and a former helicopter pilot with the U.S. Army. She is completing her Ph.D. in Public Policy and Administration with a specialization in Terrorism, Mediation, and Peace. Follow her on twitter @melissa_gresham

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