It is often difficult to implement a grand strategy because of the electoral impediments within the U.S. and the often-volatile relationship between our branches of government. And administrations that hold different ideals and values make it difficult to implement a clear and continuing grand strategy for our national security policy.
The grand strategy for America after 9/11 could be summed up as the war on terror. President Bush waged this war on terror during his time in office, President Obama recently declared the war on terror over and that al-Qaeda was on the verge of defeat. While the use of drone strikes has greatly diminished the threats and capabilities of al-Qaeda, they still remain. In the month of August, 19 diplomatic missions across the Middle East and North Africa were closed based on a conversation between al-Qaeda leader Zawahiri and Nasser al-Wuhayshi, the leader of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) that was intercepted by the NSA.
Also, there have been several violent and deadly terrorist attacks in Africa the past few weeks. One being at an upscale Western mail in Kenya to which al-Shabab has claimed responsibility. Another was a deadly attack on a Northern Nigerian agriculture college that left at least 40 students dead (many of whom were sleeping). While Boko Haram has not claimed responsibility for this attack it does bear considerable resemblance to their previous attacks.
Al-Shabab means “the youth” in Arabic and became the radical wing of the Union of Islamic Courts in 2006. During that time they fought against Ethiopian forces that entered Somalia to back the interim government. They impose strict sharia law in the territories that they control. In February of 2012 their leader, Ahmed Abdi Godane, pledged his obedience to al-Qaeda’s Ayman al-Zawahiri. And they have increasingly used guerilla tactics in their attacks. They do carry out attacks outside of Somalia, as evidenced by their guerilla-like attack on the Nairobi Westgate mall.
In English, “Boko Haram” translates into “Western education is sin.” Boko Haram’s main goal is to establish a Muslim state in northeastern Nigeria. Their violence has killed more Muslims despite often seeking to kill Christians and attack Christian institutions. Their primary targets are schools, which make it quite likely that they were responsible for the attack on the agriculture college.
There has been a growing partnership between al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Somalia’s al-Shabab group and Nigeria’s Boko Haram. Each of these three groups has been greatly influenced by Saudi based Wahhbism and seeks to rid Africa of its western influence. The U.S. has been fighting against al-Qaeda since the attacks on 9/11, but with the spread of al-Qaeda’s influence in Africa, the U.S. could easily become more involved than they already are.
The U.S. has already contributed drones to Kenya to monitor al-Qaeda backed rebels and Nigeria and Ethiopia have purchased small fleets to monitor militants as well. The U.S. Air Force has encouraged leaders in Africa to utilize surveillance aircraft to dispel insurgent groups.
In light of the threats that al-Qaeda still poses in the Middle East and Africa, the fact that they still target western and U.S. interests, and the connection al-Qaeda has with regional groups Boko Haram and al-Shabab (along with their recent string of attacks) should be cause for the current administration to reevaluate the threat of al-Qaeda and its strategy in the Middle East and Africa. The threat is definitely still there even though they seem to be focused on the near enemy rather than their far enemy to the West. It could be easy for these groups to change the focus and direction of their priorities because they do have a large number of militants and they do hold large amounts of territory stretching from West to East Africa.
If we do not help contain threats outside of the U.S., they often find a way to threaten us here at home. As we see the escalation of violence in Africa, whether it's led by al-Shabab, Boko Haram, or al-Qaeda and its affiliates, it should continue to demand the attention of our national security and be incorporated in our grand strategy.