Washington Institute For Defence & SecurityWashington Institute For Defence & SecurityWashington Institute For Defence & Security
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The Soaring Menace: Terrorism In Africa Surges 100,000% During The 'War On Terror

There have been several deadlocks, mishaps, and total losses in the US-led war on terror. Over the course of more than two decades of military engagements, the United States has witnessed the catastrophic collapse of its efforts in both Iraq and Afghanistan But Africa could have suffered more from its “Forever Wars” than the Middle East

According to a recent analysis by the Pentagon research center Africa Center for Strategic Studies, the number of terrorist deaths in Africa has increased by more than 100,000% since the United States launched its war on terror. These results run counter to assertions made by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) that is fostering security and stability and countering terrorist threats on the continent. 

Rise of Terrorism in Africa

In 2002 and 2003, the State Department reported that there were just nine terrorist acts in all of Africa, with a total of twenty-three people killed. At that point, the United States was just getting started on a multi-decade endeavor to train thousands of African soldiers, establish dozens of outposts, send its own commandos on a variety of missions, establish proxy forces, conduct drone strikes, and even fight militants on the continent of Africa

The effort to provide billions of dollars in security assistance was still in its early stages. Al-Qaeda is the first target of our fight on terror, but it doesn’t stop there. In the immediate wake of the 9/11 attacks, President George W. Bush warned the American people, “It will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped, and defeated.” He explicitly mentioned that these terrorists had plans to strike “vast regions” of Africa.

Factors Contributing to the Surge

The majority of Americans, even those in Congress, are ignorant of the scope of these operations or how little has been accomplished to safeguard African lives. According to the Africa Center, the number of deaths in Africa from militant Islamist violence increased by 20% last year, from 19,412 in 2022 to 23,322, which is considered “a record level of lethal violence.” This indicates an almost twofold increase in fatalities from 2021 and a 101,300% increase from 2002–2003. The two primary fronts of U.S. counterterrorism operations in Africa for many years have been Somalia and the West African Sahel

There were notable increases in terrorism in each recent year. In order to support that front, the US launched a multi-decade endeavor that included sending out thousands of African military officers for training, setting up dozens of outposts, sending its own commandos on a variety of missions, establishing proxy forces, launching drone strikes, and even going into direct ground combat with militants in Africa. The majority of Americans are ignorant of the scope of these activities, even members of Congress. Few people are aware of how severely America’s covert war in that country has failed.

Impact on African Communities

In 2002, U.S. Special Operations personnel were sent to Somalia for the first time, and then military assistance, advisors, and private contractors. There, American forces continue to fight terrorism more than two decades later, mostly targeting the Islamist insurgent organization al-Shabaab. 

To this aim, a 2023 analysis from the Costs of War Project at Brown University states that Washington has contributed billions of dollars in counterterrorism support. In order to carry out covert military activities, the Americans have also established many proxy armies and carried out more than 280 airstrikes and commando raids there. The Africa Center reports that there was a 22 percent rise in mortality in Somalia in 2023, with a record high of 7,643 deaths. Since 2020, the number of deaths has tripled. 

The Bottom Line

In conclusion, After initial military victories in 2001 and 2003, the US wars in Afghanistan and Iraq swiftly turned into faltering occupations. Washington’s intentions in both nations depended on its capacity to raise national armies that would support and ultimately lead the battle against hostile troops. In the end, both US-built forces would fail. In Afghanistan, a two-decade conflict came to a conclusion in 2021 when the Taliban retook the nation after being defeated by an American-built, funded, trained, and armed military. 

In 2014, the US-trained Iraqi army was almost defeated by the Islamic State in Iraq, prompting Washington to reenter the fight. Even now, US forces are still fighting in neighboring Syria and Iraq. According to the Africa Center research, “fatalities in the Sahel represent a near threefold increase from the levels seen in 2020.” “In 2023, the Sahel region accounted for half of all deaths on the continent linked to militant Islamists.”


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