EJ Hogendoorn, Africa deputy program director at International Crisis Group, answers GPS readers’ questions about the recent U.S. military raids in Libya and Somalia, how Al-Shabaab might respond and the implications of Africa’s “youth bulge.”
Do the two U.S. raids in Africa this month signal a shift from drone attacks?
It’s not possible to tell at this point. The two raids underscore one limitation of drones: they cannot be used in urban settings where the possibility of killing civilians is very high. This would not only violate international humanitarian law, but would be counter-productive, since it would turn the population against the United States and its allies and possibly radicalize others into joining jihadi groups like Al-Shabaab.
The raids also suggest that the U.S. government recognizes that capturing a jihadi leader is much more valuable than killing one, even if there are risks to U.S. servicemen. The intelligence that can be gleaned from these men not only allows governments to learn about impending attacks, but also about their organization, financing and networks. Even if a captured militant does not divulge any information, the possibility that he might forces groups to alter plans and change communication protocols and locations. It also sows suspicion and discord that will hamper operations and could reveal the location of other commanders. This disruption is more significant than the elimination of one, or even a small group, of leaders, who can often be quickly replaced.
Raids and drone strikes, however, can only achieve limited tactical aims. As we have hopefully learned in Afghanistan and elsewhere, it’s much more useful to support the development of effective and inclusive governments that are better able to combat jihadi groups and address the grievances that drive young men, and some women, to join them.
U.S. special forces were involved in a pair of raids in Africa at the weekend. In Libya, Delta Force captured a key suspect in the East Africa embassy bombings that took place in 1998. However, Navy SEAL Team Six withdrew before being able to confirm if they had killed a suspected top leader of Al-Shabaab, a terrorist group linked to al Qaeda that has claimed responsibility for the attack last month on a shopping mall in Nairobi.
But what do these raids say about the U.S. role in Africa? How great is the threat from terrorism on the continent, and what should we expect next?
International Crisis Group’s Deputy Africa Director E.J. Hogendoorn will be taking GPS readers’ questions on these and related issues. Please leave your questions in the comments section below.
For more What in the World, watch GPS, Sundays at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m. ET on CNN
By Global Public Square staff
Amid all of Washington's discussions on Syria and Iran, one other issue seems to have gotten ignored. The U.S. signed an actual international treaty this month, one with vast implications for terrorism and war around the world. The problem is…the treaty needs to be ratified by the U.S. Senate – and that's just not going to happen.
Let us explain.
It's the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty – an agreement that aims to control the $70 billion global trade of weapons. Almost every major commodity is subject to some form of international regulation – gold, oil, currencies. But there have been few controls on the flow of weaponry. Countries have wanted to have an unregulated free-for-all in the weapons market. And we are not just talking about guns.
The U.N. treaty covers battle tanks, combat aircraft, attack helicopters, warships. These are all weapons that are playing a part in ongoing wars in Syria and large parts of Africa. As Nigeria's President Goodluck Jonathan put it last week, these are the true "weapons of mass destruction" as much as the chemical weapons that were used in Syria last month. And yet everyone – including rogue states, militias, and terrorist groups – seem to have unfettered access to them.
By Zachary Elkaim, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Zachary Elkaim is a researcher at Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a policy institute in Washington D.C., focusing on national security issues. The views expressed are his own.
Kenya’s Foreign Ministry has claimed at least two al-Shabaab terrorists involved in the Westgate Mall attack in Nairobi last week were Americans. This is neither new nor surprising, but it raises troubling questions about the American al-Shabaab connection.
The American-Somali community has grown since 1991, when immigrants fled the civil war. Current estimates of the number of Somali-born persons in the United States are unreliable, varying from under 50,000 to over 150,000. But once here, they often live in concentrated groups, with the largest community in Minnesota.
While the majority of the population have adjusted to American culture, the Somali experience in America has been punctuated by the radicalization of some its youth, a problem that has been on the radar since at least 2004. By 2007, al-Shabaab was openly issuing calls for foreign fighters to join their jihad, and small numbers of Somalis living in America began to answer the call. Americans trained, including the use of weapons, alongside Somalis from all over the world. Al-Shabaab’s ideological indoctrination included “anti-Ethiopian, anti-American, anti-Israeli, and anti-Western beliefs.”
CNN speaks with Fareed about the Nairobi attack, reports that attackers singled out non-Muslims as infidels for slaughter, and a suicide bombing at a church in Pakistan that killed 81 people.
What's going on here with these attacks on Christians? Now, there are reports in Kenya, a slaughter of Christians in Pakistan. We know Coptic Christians in Egypt have been targeted, including at their church. Give us some perspective.
It’s a very serious and tragic situation. Remember, many of these groups have always had this kind of very strong, violent attitude towards what they regard as heretics, any non-Muslims. What's interesting here is in most cases, these terror groups are now attacking locals because they have despaired of the prospect of doing the kind of large attacks on Americans, on American military installations.
In al-Shabaab’s case, they have been driven back in Somalia very effectively. But it’s always possible to attack civilians. It’s always possible to do terrorism. So, where they are failing to advance politically and even militarily in places like Somalia, in Pakistan, they then turn to these more spectacular acts of terrorism as a way of getting attention.
By Katherine Zimmerman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Katherine Zimmerman is a senior analyst at the American Enterprise Institute’s Critical Threats Project, and the author of the recently released report The Al Qaeda Network: A New Framework for Defining the Enemy. The views expressed are her own.
The Obama administration counts Somalia as a success story, but the rising death toll from al-Shabaab’s bloody attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall is a tragic reminder that U.S. strategy against al Qaeda, claims of success notwithstanding, is not working.
Al-Shabaab no longer controls vast expanses of territory as it once did, but reports of its demise are greatly exaggerated. Dismissed too often as a Somali nuisance, al-Shabaab is more than a local militia; it is part of the growing al Qaeda global network.
The Westgate mall attack is the deadliest terrorist attack in Kenya since al Qaeda’s 1998 truck bombing of the U.S. embassy in Nairobi. Reminiscent of the 2008 Mumbai attack that killed 164, the militants reportedly conducted a two-pronged assault with grenades and small arms, attacking separate floors. As of this writing, they continue to hold an unknown number of hostages. Among the scores of dead are Canadians, Britons, and Frenchmen. Four Americans have been listed as among the wounded.
By Alan J. Kuperman, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Kuperman is editor of Nuclear Terrorism and Global Security: The Challenge of Phasing out Highly Enriched Uranium, and coordinator of the Nuclear Proliferation Prevention Project (NPPP) at the LBJ School of Public Affairs, University of Texas at Austin, where he is an associate professor. The views expressed are his own.
Nearly a dozen years after the al Qaeda strikes of September 11, 2001, America’s nuclear power plants – and civilian research facilities with bomb-grade uranium – are still not required to protect against a maximum credible terrorist attack of this scale. It is time for policymakers to act, if they want to prevent disaster.
The vulnerability to a terrorist strike was a key finding of a year-long study that I co-authored, as part of a larger interdisciplinary project at the University of Texas at Austin, under a contract for the Office of the Secretary of Defense (which has no responsibility for the final contents of the study).
The good news is that America’s military-related nuclear facilities, operated by the Departments of Defense and Energy, are generally much better protected. The Nuclear Regulatory Commission has also modestly raised security requirements at civilian facilities, which have bolstered their protective measures.
Disturbingly, however, nuclear power plants still must protect against only five or six attackers (according to published reports), less than one-third the number who engaged in attacks on 9/11. Nor are these existing facilities required to withstand the impact of a commercial airliner, as hit the World Trade Center and Pentagon. Unlike the Navy’s nuclear assets, civilian reactors adjacent to large bodies of water are not required to deploy floating barriers to defend against ship-borne attacks. Nuclear utilities are not even required to protect against rocket-propelled grenades and sniper rifles with armor-piercing ammunition, weapons that are possessed by many terrorist organizations.
By Mohammed Ayoob, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Mohammed Ayoob is University Distinguished Professor Emeritus of International Relations, Michigan State University, and Adjunct Scholar at the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding. He is author of the upcoming book ‘Will the Middle East Implode?' The views expressed are his own.
Wednesday’s massacre by the security forces in Cairo and elsewhere in Egypt has left hundreds dead and perhaps thousands more injured. The old order is lashing out with ferocity against those who dared challenge it. What is worse, a substantial segment of the Egyptian public – mesmerized by the rhetoric of the military brass and its civilian henchmen – consider this a “restoration of democracy” to use John Kerry’s Orwellian term to describe the July 3 military coup.
It is becoming increasingly clear that history is repeating itself as tragedy in Egypt, although with its own peculiar twist. This year reminds me of 1954, when Colonel Nasser, who had led the Egyptian military coup against the then corrupt monarchy in 1952 with the help of the Muslim Brotherhood, turned against his Islamist allies, banned the party, threw its leaders in jail and ultimately executed several of them. The Brotherhood, which had emerged into the open after years of clandestine activity against the monarchy, was forced underground once again.
By Fareed Zakaria
On the broader question of the state of al-Qaeda, there's room for debate. Al-Qaeda Central, the organization based in Afghanistan and Pakistan, is battered and broke. But the idea of al-Qaeda remains vibrant in other places–notably places where the government is extremely weak and cannot actually control territory. Al-Qaeda-affiliated groups are not flourishing in hotbeds of Islamic radicalism like Saudi Arabia. They thrive instead in Yemen, Somalia, Mali and northern Nigeria. Some of these groups have real ties to al-Qaeda and share its goals. Others, like the ones in Africa, look like local warlords using the label to burnish their brand.
So what kind of strategy should the U.S. pursue against these small groups in weak states? There are three possible paths. The first would be a full-bore counterinsurgency strategy, the kind that General David Petraeus executed in Iraq and (to a lesser degree) in Afghanistan. But does anyone think that sending thousands of U.S. troops into these countries is a smart idea? Does anyone think keeping more troops in Afghanistan would make terrorists in Mali tremble? As Michael Hayden, CIA director under George W. Bush, has pointed out, there is a delicate balance between doing too little in these countries and doing so much that you exaggerate the importance of local thugs, Americanize local grievances and create a global threat that didn't really exist.
By Soner Cagaptay and Aaron Y. Zelin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Soner Cagaptay is director of the Turkish Research Program at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and the author of the forthcoming book The Rise of Turkey: The 21st Century’s First Muslim Power. Aaron Zelin is a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy and founder of Jihadology.net. The views expressed are their own.
In late May, the Turkish government uncovered a plan to use Sarin gas as part of a potential bomb attack in southern Turkey. Al Qaeda’s branch in Syria, Jabhat al-Nusra (JN), was allegedly behind the plot, and the subsequent arrests highlighted the increasing trouble jihadi radicals could pose for Ankara. Indeed, the longer Turkey turns a blind eye to jihadi rebels crossing its territory into Syria, the more likely there will be blowback.
The reality is that providing jihadists access to a neighboring country can result in unintended consequences as radicals ultimately bite the hand that feeds them, something Pakistan should have learned over Afghanistan, and Bashar al-Assad has discovered as Syria-backed al Qaeda elements from Iraqi territory have turned against the regime in Damascus.
True, Turkey has neither the vulnerabilities of Syria, nor Pakistan – the country is a democracy and a majority middle class society, so does not have the social and economic problems so often conducive to jihadist radicalization. Nor does Turkey have a homegrown jihadist tradition. A foreigner orchestrated the 2003 Istanbul bombings that targeted the British consulate, the headquarters of a Turkish bank and two synagogues, and few Turks have since demonstrated a taste for jihad.
By Anthony Dworkin, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Anthony Dworkin is a senior policy fellow at the European Council on Foreign Relations. The views expressed are his own.
Relations between the United States and Europe hit a low point following revelations that Washington was spying on European Union buildings and harvesting foreign email messages.
Behind the scenes, though, it is not data protection and surveillance that produces the most complications for the transatlantic intelligence relationship, but rather America's use of armed drones to kill terrorist suspects away from the battlefield. Incidents such as the recent killing of at least 17 people in Pakistan are therefore only likely to heighten European unease.
In public, European governments have displayed a curiously passive approach to American drone strikes, even as their number has escalated under Barack Obama’s presidency. Many Europeans believe that the majority of these strikes are unlawful, but their governments have maintained an uneasy silence on the issue. This is partly because of the uncomfortable fact that information provided by European intelligence services may have been used to identify some targets. It is also because of a reluctance to accuse a close ally of having violated international law. And it is partly because European countries have not worked out exactly what they think about the use of drones and how far they agree within the European Union on the question. Now, however, Europe’s muted stance on drone strikes looks likely to change.
By Ahmad Majidyar, Special to CNN
Editor’s note: Ahmad Majidyar is a senior research associate at the American Enterprise Institute, focusing on South Asia and the Middle East. The views expressed are the writer’s own.
The opening of a Taliban office in Qatar prompted fresh optimism over the prospect of a political settlement being reached that could end the 12-year conflict in Afghanistan. The U.S. and Afghan governments hoped that the insurgent group would agree to renounce violence, cut ties with al Qaeda and accept the Afghan constitution. The Taliban, however, clearly had a different agenda, using the occasion as a publicity stunt to present itself as an alternative government and gain international credibility. And its approach sent shockwaves across Afghanistan.
At the inauguration ceremony in Doha, Taliban representatives reportedly played their official anthem, hoisted their white flag and placed an “Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan” nameplate outside their embassy-like building. Feeling betrayed by the U.S. and Qatari governments, Afghan President Hamid Karzai almost immediately announced he was boycotting the talks and suspended planned negotiations with Washington over a bilateral security agreement that lays out the legal framework for post-2014 American military presence in Afghanistan. Since then, the peace talks have been placed on hold.
As a result, despite Secretary of State John Kerry’s conciliatory phone conversations with President Karzai, and Presidents Obama and Karzai on Tuesday “reaffirming” their support for talks with the Taliban, any negotiations are unlikely to produce something tangible.