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Terrorism in Africa won’t be defeated by failed Iraq war strategies

Mark Fancher

Mark Fancher

By Mark P. Fancher
Special to the Michigan Citizen

As conditions in Iraq deteriorate, a war-weary American public watches nervously as policy-makers debate prospects for renewed military intervention in that country. Heavy U.S. casualties that were the product of a seemingly pointless, endless conflict left many with no appetite for further military engagement in Iraq — or for that matter in any country. Nevertheless, while all eyes are on Iraq, the Pentagon is in West Africa quietly transforming peacekeeping training programs into training for aggressive war against terrorists.

A U.S. Army spokesman said: “What we’re doing with the Nigerian Army is helping them take a ranger battalion that already exists and provide infantry skills to enable them to go counter a threat within their country, and it is not peacekeeping — it is every bit of what we call decisive action, meaning those soldiers will go in harm’s way to conduct counter-insurgency operations in their country to defeat a known threat, and it’s all purely funded by the Nigerians.”

Another military spokesman said.“We want these soldiers to take the fight to Boko Haram in the restricted terrain and really eliminate the threat within their borders, so they can get back to peacekeeping operations,”

Increased military engagement in Africa is not limited to Nigeria. The New York Times recently reported the U.S. is secretly training elite counterterrorism units in Niger, Mauritania, Mali and Libya.

According to the article: “The new program to train small counterterrorism forces in Africa resembles larger efforts by American Special Operations troops carried out in Iraq and Afghanistan.” It is this last point that should cause red flags to fly.

Military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have not exactly been models of military success. In fact, these strategies failed so badly the threat of terrorist domination of Iraq is greater now than before the initial U.S. intervention in 2003. It all begs the question: Why there is an expectation that military strategies used in Iraq will yield different results in Africa?

An even larger question is why a reliance on military strategies at all?

When considering the kidnapping of school girls by Boko Haram and many other acts of terrorism in Nigeria, some informed analysts have suggested the causes may have roots in Nigerian government corruption, ongoing north/south political conflicts in the country and widespread poverty. It has been suggested these and other problems may all have played some role in making parts of Nigeria fertile ground for al-Qaeda and Boko Haram recruitment, and all demand non-military solutions.

If there were a genuine interest in ending terrorism, there would be no replication of failed military strategies. Instead there would be an approach that addresses the complex, nuanced social, political and economic causes of terrorist violence.

A refusal to address the problem in that way only gives credence to theories it is U.S. interest in maintaining access to Nigeria’s oil that prompts its hands-on, hip-deep involvement in problems that on a regional, if not continental, level Africans should be addressing on their own.

Mark P. Fancher is an attorney who writes frequently about the U.S. military presence in Africa. He can be contacted at


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