The terrorist attack on Mogadishu, where at least 358 people were killed last October 14, and the ambush on October 5, in the southwest of Niger, near the border with Mali, where four U.S. Army Green Beretand five Nigerien military have lost their lives, marked a new escalation in the Trump’s war on terrorism in Africa.
On the continent, more than 1,300 U.S. Army soldiers are currently deployed, indicating Africa as the region with the most significant deployments for American troops after the Middle East. These Elite Units train and support local anti-terrorist security forces to form Special Branch capable of fighting bloody jihadist groups like Boko Haram and al-Shabaab.
Most likely, the two attacks will induce the Pentagon to increase the America’s military presence in Africa to hunt al-Qaeda terrorists and those of the Islamic State. An increase justified by the fact that al-Qaeda represents the most dreadful and sprawling jihadist network in the continent, while the Islamic State, after the fall of Raqqa and Mosul, is looking for new sanctuaries.
This latter possibility had already been repeatedly highlighted by analysts, such as those at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies in Washington, which in an infograpich published last March set out the ISIS’sintentions to expand its activities in Africa, especially in northern area, where many fighters have returned after the defeat on the Syrian-Iraqi front.
Moreover, the increase in the presence of U.S. troops in Africa would be in line with US President Donald Trump’s decision-making strategy to stem terrorism. By pursuing this strategy, last March, Trump expanded the powers that allow the U.S.Departmentof Defense to conduct air strikes and take part in ground raids against the Somali al-Shabaab terrorist group.
According to Somali inquirers, just one of these air raids would have been the source of one of the most devastating terrorist attacks of the last fifteen years, consumed in the HodanDistrict in Mogadishu. The terrorist who was driving one of the two trucks used for the attack, carrying over 350 kilograms of explosives, was a former Somali army soldier, native of Bariire, a town located 50 kilometers southwest of capital, which is a stronghold of al-Shabaab.
The city was the target of repeated American air raids, one of which last August killed ten civilians who had no implications for Somali extremists. Those who, in turn, did everything they could to denounce U.S. military aggression, publishing on the jihadist sites the images of the battered bodies of children and the testimonies of supposed survivors.
These premises, combined with the fact that local investigators have determined that before being arrested, the owner of both vehicles used in the attack on 14 October resided in Bariire, wherecame from also the two trucks used for the attack, make it very plausible that the action was planned in the Somali small town.
Moreover, Bariire had been regained al-Shabaab just before the bombing. And in the past, Somali Jihadists had used it as a basis for launching several attacks against high-profile targets in Mogadishu.
The revenge thesis on American air raids could also be comforted by a recent UNDP study, where it emerges that 71% of the over five hundred former members of militant organizations interviewed, believe to make them make ”the ultimate choice” it was ”government action” and ”power abuses”, including”killing or arrest of a family member or friend”. In the African context, this coercion instrument often constitutes the “non-return point”, which forces people to join a terrorist group.
In the same report, it is also noted that unemployment, disenchantment and lack of opportunities have encorauged the recruitment of young Africans in major extremist movements such as Boko Haram, al-Shabaab and al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.
It therefore seems obvious that, to stem the jihadist threat in Africa, support for local troops and raids in American is not enough. In many of the countries on the continent destabilized by Islamist terrorism, support is also needed to improve governance and expand economic opportunities, especially in the region’s geographic suburbs.
Only in this way can deny to al-Qaeda and the Islamic State the possibility of recruiting new followers and establishing safe sanctuaries in Somalia and Sahel, who have become the two centers of terrorist operations in Africa.