US efforts in Africa go beyond eliminating terrorists
Special to Stars and Stripes February 2, 2023
Bilal al-Sudani is not exactly a household name, which is all the more reason to highlight the fact that this dangerous terrorist leader has been removed.
On Jan. 26, U.S. military troops killed 11 members of Islamic State, including him. Members of this violent fundamentalist movement were engaged in a mountainous cave complex in Somalia. Al-Sudani was a powerful and effective leader, involved in broad coordination of military and terrorist operations.
ISIS has been formally classified as a terrorist organization by the United Nations.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin announced the special military operation. His statement noted al-Sudani “was responsible for fostering the growing presence of ISIS in Africa and for funding the group’s operations worldwide, including in Afghanistan.”
Austin emphasized the crucial importance of intelligence professionals in making the successful operation possible.
Earlier, on Jan. 20, U.S. Africa Command at the request of the Somali government undertook a successful joint military operation. This attack took place northwest of Mogadishu near an area named Galcad. Somali National Army troops were engaged in heavy combat there with the terrorist movement al-Shabaab, based in Somalia.
Previously, a decade ago, al-Sudani was involved in recruiting and training members of al-Shabab. This organization is directly associated with al-Qaida, which carried out the 9/11 mass murder attacks in the United States in 2001.
For decades, Somalia has been generally regarded as a “failed state,” with the government unable to provide even elementary services or security. In 1993, a U.S. military mission to Somalia ended in sorrow and frustration after the killing of 18 U.S. Army Rangers. The book and film “Black Hawk Down” describe this. Pirates operating off the coast of Somalia are a continuing, vexing challenge.
Al-Shabab was formed around December 2006, from the shifting formations of extreme, essentially truly insane, terrorist groups. Included were extreme elements of the formerly stabilizing Islamic Courts Union. American terrorist Omar Hammami was involved until he was killed in a power struggle.
Regarding U.S. Army challenges, initiatives and operations in Africa confirm the importance of special operations. Officers who specialize in unconventional warfare now reach top command positions, in some contrast to the institutional emphasis on conventional forces during the Vietnam War era and before.
Historically, Americans have been absent-minded about Africa. Past presidents generally focused on other parts of the world, with notable exceptions. Sen. John F. Kennedy was chairman of the African Affairs subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, extremely attentive to that task, and carried concern about Africa into the Oval Office.
President Jimmy Carter in office and since has steadfastly worked with Africa. The Carter Center has devoted sustained emphasis to public health and related problems of that continent. One dramatic result is the virtual eradication of guinea worm, a devastating, agonizing disease. Carter effectively leveraged his center’s efforts into World Bank efforts targeting the disease.
Former President Bill Clinton achieved rock star status in Africa, a popular stop in his travels on behalf of the Clinton Foundation. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama devoted at least periodic attention to the continent while in office, reflecting the changing times.
As president, Kennedy deserves credit for establishing the Peace Corps, a concept promoted by former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt and Sen. Hubert Humphrey, D-Minn. The Peace Corps is remarkably durable, today involving selfless volunteers ranging widely in age.
Related, enormous growth in private philanthropy means there are unprecedented opportunities to raise living standards across Africa. Basic safety and security, however, remain a challenge.
Terrorists generate continuing death, destruction and headlines but have yet to demonstrate appeal to the average person in Africa — or elsewhere on the globe.
The world today rejects extremism.
Learn: Eleanor Roosevelt talks with JFK: https://www.jfklibrary.org/asset-viewer/archives/JFKWHA/1961/JFKWHA-014/JFKWHA-014
Arthur I. Cyr is author of “After the Cold War — American Foreign Policy, Europe and Asia.” He has taught at the Universities of Chicago and Illinois, Northwestern University and Carthage College (Clausen Distinguished Professor).