Terrorism Watch

Terrorism increase – warning signals for Southern Africa

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Notwithstanding spending enormous amounts to fight terrorism, the threat remains real and is spreading, also in Southern Africa where the first attacks occurred last month in northern Mozambique.

Last week’s New York terror incident, close to the historical Ground Zero-site where a truck was deliberately driven into a group of people, killing eight, is a grim reminder of the unpredictability of such attacks and that nobody is safe anywhere. 

Referring to trucks being the latest terrorists weapon of choice, an expert on terrorism wrote, “…by showcasing the wide array of everyday objects, like trucks, that can be weaponized, and the infinite availability of targets, … highlighted just how easy an act of terrorism can be to committed.”

The New York incident followed on four US troops losing their lives on 4 October in an ambush in the West African state of Niger, where they were part of a multi-national military task force fighting terror in one of the most fertile breeding grounds for, particularly Islamic jihadists terrorists. 

Global War on Terror

After the unthinkable happened on 11 September 2001, when Al- Qaida in spectacular fashion struck on US soil, flying two planes kamikaze-style into the Twin Towers and another crashed into the Pentagon, the US in response launched its Global War on Terror (GWT).

The idea was to identify terrorists’ home bases and support structures world-wide, particularly targeting  those known for their anti-US stance, and destroy them before they could carry out planned attacks on US targets.

This proved an impossible task due to terrorism’s unpredictability, the terrorists carrying most of the aces, including target selection, choosing the time, and the kind of attack.

To exacerbate the challenge, it is argued that the recent spike in terror attacks, particularly in Europe, is a direct consequence of the collapse of ISIS and the so-called Islamic State. Many former fighters return home to unacceptable conditions they in the first place abandoned to fight for a cause they deemed legitimate and righteous. 

Costly

The cost of the GWT is enormous. American taxpayers had to cough up an estimated US$1.46 trillion – roughly US$ 250m per day - on wars abroad since the Twin Towers attack.

This costs include only direct war-related expenses such as operating and maintaining bases, procuring equipment, and paying and feeding troops. Most notably it does not include the intelligence community’s expenses related to the GWT, and which, in itself, is substantial.

Only World War II cost the US more than the GWT. Direct war-related expenses from the Vietnam War for excample cost US$738 billion in today's dollars.

Focus on Africa

As part of the GWT the US had also focused its attention on Africa, particularly those regions where the locals are known to be sympathetic to anti-American rhetoric, known terrorist training facilities are located, and where terror attacks had occurred.

The most dangerous and challenging region, the Sahel, is an arid region that includes the impoverished country of Niger, which hosted the ambush on 4 October 2017 of four Special Forces soldiers by suspected Islamist militants.

The Sahel became a hotbed of instability and unrest in 2011 soon after NATO, with US assistance, ousted Gadhafi, Libya’s long-time dictator. The disintegration of Libya opened the region to an influx of weapons from the former dictator’s armories and falling in the hands of many well trained, but jobless soldiers, militants, and criminal elements. The fragile governments in the Sahel came under threat.

Foreign military intervention, particularly from France with US logistical support followed, but the region remains highly volatile and unstable – the situation might still deteriorate.

Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, recently described the Sahel as a strategic theater where the Islamist militants may seek to regroup after losses in the Middle East.

Echoing him, US senator Lindsey O. Graham told reporters: “The war is morphing and you’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less; you’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less…”

These are no empty threats. In what is described by the US Air Force as the ”biggest military labor troop project in US Air Force history” the US military is busy constructing a second drone facility in the heart of the Sahara desert in Niger, costing US$ 100 million.

A recent UN report also warned the security situation in the Sahel is in "a continuous downward spiral" which emphasizes the importance of getting ready the 5 000 strong G5 Sahel Force comprising soldiers from Mali,  Niger, Burkina Faso, Chad and Mauritania, to combat terrorism in the Sahel.

Funding, however, remains a problem and although the US pledged US$60 million, its effort will have to be bolstered from other sources.

It is estimated that annual costs will be close to US$500 million. The UN Security Council said responsibility for funding lies with the G5, though it has encouraged support from the international community.

African countries have collectively pledged US$57 million between them, while the European Union offered to match that amount. A donor conference will be held in Brussels in December to try and make up the shortfall.

The threat is spreading

With the enormous amount spent on combatting terrorism with no end in sight, it came as another blow when it was reported that Southern Africa, a region unaccustomed to fundamentalist Islamic terror attacks, last month had its first experience.

Several armed and deadly attacks, the first happening a day after the 4 October killing of US troops in Niger, took place in northern Mozambique. These attacks are believed to be the first Islamist attacks in the country and caused shock and bewilderment.

There are yet no clarity on who the attackers were, but with northern Mozambique’s significant Muslim population, most living in appalling conditions, it was only a matter of time before Islamic militancy would find a fertile breeding ground and support.

To make matters worse, this new threat occurred where some of the world’s largest recent offshore gas discoveries were made and it is not impossible that foreign military activities will soon be noticed.

Defining feature

The defining feature of the Trump administration’s Africa policy is that the US military presence in Africa is set to increase. A shift reflected in the administration’s budget proposal, which may end up having the biggest initial impact on US policy toward Africa. The Defense Department budget would swell by roughly 9%, enabling it to increase its presence in Africa, while the State Department would see roughly a 30% cut, if the Trump administration gets its way.

It seems inevitable that the Trump administration, like its predecessors, is repeating the same mistake - seeking a military solution to a problem that demands a different approach.

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by Gath Cilliers

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