The link to this flash video was removed for security reasons 119 terrorist incidents in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2011, the last year for which numbers are available, there were close to 500. A recent report from the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies counted 21 terrorist attacks in the Maghreb and Sahel regions of northern Africa in 2001. During the Obama years, the figures have fluctuated between 144 and 204 annually.
Similarly, an analysis of 65,000 individual incidents of political violence in Africa from 1997 to 2012, assembled by researchers affiliated with the International Peace Research Institute, found that "violent Islamist activity has increased significantly in the past 15 years, with a particular[ly] sharp increase witnessed from 2010 onwards." Additionally, according to researcher Caitriona Dowd, "there is also evidence for the geographic spread of violent Islamist activity both south- and east-ward on the continent."
In fact, the trends appear stark and eerily mirror statements from AFRICOM's leaders.
In March 2009, after years of training indigenous forces and hundreds of millions of dollars spent on counterterrorism activities, General William Ward, the first leader of U.S. Africa Command, gave its inaugural status report to the Senate Armed Services Committee. It was bleak. "Al-Qaeda," he said, "increased its influence dramatically across north and east Africa over the past three years with the growth of East Africa Al-Qaeda, al Shabaab, and al-Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM)."
This February, after four more years of military engagement, security assistance, training of indigenous armies, and hundreds of millions of dollars more in funding, AFRICOM's incoming commander General David Rodriguez explained the current situation to the Senate in more ominous terms. "The command's number one priority is East Africa with particular focus on al-Shabaab and al-Qaeda networks. This is followed by violent extremist [movements] and al-Qaeda in North and West Africa and the Islamic Maghreb. AFRICOM's third priority is Counter-LRA [Lord's Resistance Army] operations."
Rodriguez warned that, "with the increasing threat of al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, I see a greater risk of regional instability if we do not engage aggressively." In addition to that group, he declared al-Shabaab and Boko Haram major menaces. He also mentioned the problems posed by the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa and Ansar al-Dine. Libya, he told them, was threatened by "hundreds of disparate militias," while M23 was "destabilizing the entire Great Lakes region [of Central Africa]."
In West Africa, he admitted, there was also a major narcotics trafficking problem. Similarly, East Africa was "experiencing an increase in heroin trafficking across the Indian Ocean from Afghanistan and Pakistan." In addition, "in the Sahel region of North Africa, cocaine and hashish trafficking is being facilitated by, and directly benefitting, organizations like al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb leading to increased regional instability."
In other words, 10 years after Washington began pouring taxpayer dollars into counterterrorism and stability efforts across Africa and its forces first began operating from Camp Lemonnier, the continent has experienced profound changes, just not those the U.S. sought. The University of Birmingham's Berny Sèbe ticks off post-revolutionary Libya, the collapse of Mali, the rise of Boko Haram in Nigeria, the coup in the Central African Republic, and violence in Africa's Great Lakes region as evidence of increasing volatility. "The continent is certainly more unstable today than it was in the early 2000s, when the U.S. started to intervene more directly," he told me.
As the war in Afghanistan -- a conflict born of blowback -- winds down, there will be greater incentive and opportunity to project U.S. military power in Africa. However, even a cursory reading of recent history suggests that this impulse is unlikely to achieve U.S. goals. While correlation doesn't equal causation, there is ample evidence to suggest the United States has facilitated a terror diaspora, imperiling nations and endangering peoples across Africa. In the wake of 9/11, Pentagon officials were hard-pressed to show evidence of a major African terror threat. Today, the continent is thick with militant groups that are increasingly crossing borders, sowing insecurity, and throwing the limits of U.S. power into broad relief. After 10 years of U.S. operations to promote stability by military means, the results have been the opposite. Africa has become blowback central.
Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. An award-winning journalist, his work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything that Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (The American Empire Project, Metropolitan Books). You can catch his conversation with Bill Moyers about that book by clicking here. His website is NickTurse.com. You can follow him on Tumblr and on Facebook.
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