President Biden's retreat from Afghanistan has generated deep concern about US anti-terrorism policy. Two time zones to the west of the mountainous country, the president's actions raise questions about other possible withdrawals from small quasi-wars against terrorist militias in Africa. The news media give scant publicity to the terrorist activities, including attacks, recruitment, and territorial domination, in all parts of the continent.
Over the past few decades, the Pentagon has assumed a growing role in combating Islamist militias that pillage, murder, rape, and intimidate across wide swaths of Africa. Pentagon leaders also fear that African terrorist groups will follow in Al-Qaeda's footsteps and launch attacks on the American homeland. Some politicians and pundits have grown increasingly eager to cancel all "forever wars," but they ignore the dangers of doing so.
SOMALIA AND BEYOND
Radical Islamism found ready adherents in Africa, which has religious and cultural affinities with the Middle East, a center of violent extremism dating from the 1970s. Somalia was an early arena of this contemporary bloody sectarian upsurge. Somalia, in fact, was on Washington's radar well before Al-Qaeda hijacked jetliners and flew them into the Twin Towers and the Pentagon in 2001. President George H. W. Bush sent more than twenty thousand soldiers to Somalia to restore peace and save the population from starvation as the Horn of Africa country descended into chaos and clan warfare. The Clinton White House then tried to build a modern nation from a failed state. After the star-crossed raid of special-operations forces into Mogadishu in 1993, President Bill Clinton withdrew all US military forces. Filling the political vacuum, Islamist militias established order, erected courts, and imposed sharia, or strict Islamic law, on the population.
Fearful that the Salafi-jihadis would use their territorial gains to establish launching bases for overseas terrorism, Washington had first sent CIA field operatives and then special-operations forces to ally with anti-Islamist clan lords in the mid-1990s. The spiraling disorder and bloodshed motivated the White House to step up covert military actions by the end of the decade.
After the 9/11 terrorist attacks, President George W. Bush initiated the "global war on terror" to stamp out Salafi-jihadi cells wherever they might sprout. Rather than mount large-scale, expensive ground invasions, like those into Afghanistan and two years later into Iraq, the Pentagon turned to low-profile special-forces teams (Green Berets) to train, equip, and mentor indigenous forces beyond Somalia. These teams deployed into the Philippines, for example, to coach soldiers on how to take on Islamist-inspired bands, which were kidnapping American tourists and missionaries for ransom in the archipelago's southern islands. These efforts kept the lid on most, but not all, of the violent extremism in the island chain. Moreover, they provided a model for the Pentagon's African interventions.
Also as part of this counterterrorism strategy, the Bush White House authorized the CIA to conduct targeted killings of Al-Qaeda figures. Among the first struck by a Hellfire missile fired from a Predator drone was Abu Ali al-Harithi, a prime suspect in...