This House welcomes US help in fighting terrorist organisations in Africa

A terrorist organisation is defined by the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) as a group which will ‘intimidate a population or compel a government or an international organization to do or to abstain from doing any act’ and create a state of ‘terror’[1]. Since the 1990s there has been a notable rise in Islamic extremism, which led the United States to call for a ‘War on Terror’ in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. This brought about a concerted effort by the United States to remove terrorist groups from the African continent[2].

In 2002 the Combined Joint Task Force (CJTF) was established, eventually turning into African Command (AFRICOM). This marked the United States’ largest military presence on the continent since Operation Restore Hope in Somalia in 1993[3]. As well as providing direct counter-terrorist military support, AFRICOM and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) have provided equipment, vehicles, and logistical and training support. This help is to ensure that African states are capable of deterring terrorism within their own lands and ensure stability on the continent[4].

This debate is focused around whether or not this assistance has been more of a help or a hindrance for Africa in the face of the continent’s major challenges.

[1] UNSC  ‘Resolution 1566’

[2] Hills,A., ‘Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police’ pg.629

[3] Lyman, P. N., ‘The War on Terrorism in Africa’ pg. 1

[4] Ploch,L., ‘Countering Terrorism in East Africa: The U.S. Response’pg.2


Specialism of the United States in counter terrorism

The United States has one of the most elite and experienced counter-terrorism forces in the world, Africa could only benefit from the help they offer. Branches of the US military which specialise in counter-terrorism, such as the US Navy SEALs and Delta Force, receive rigorous training and have gained experience from numerous operations. Many African states lack the ability to train and utilise such forces, which is why US help is welcome. US military advisers were sent to Uganda to help combat the Lord’s Resistance Army[1] (LRA) and assisted with ‘an impact disproportionate to its size’[2]. Between 2011 and 2013, the LRA’s attacks were halved and the conflict’s death toll decreased by 67%. The experience that these forces provide is visibly valuable for Africa’s counter-terrorism activities.

[1] Shanker,T., ‘Armed U.S. Advisers to Help Fight African Renegade Group’

[2] BBC, ‘US forces join jungle search for Kony’


The use of US Special Forces does not guarantee success in counter-terrorism operations. These forces have made mistakes in the past, as demonstrated by the failure in the battle of Mogadishu. Despite two years in the field, the US assisted African forces have still not found Joseph Kony (leader of the LRA) which puts the Special Forces’ usefulness in to question. There is also the issue of sending the ‘right man for the job’. Military advisors who are female or lower ranked are often not respected by the forces they train[1].

[1] Metrinko,M.J., ‘The American Military Advisor’

African states can’t afford the full cost

Africa is the least developed continent in the world and will struggle to independently maintain a specialised counter-terrorism force. Thirty four of its fifty four states are classed as ‘least developed countries’[1]. The result of poor funding and bad governance is a decreased efficiency of security and military services in these states. In turn, this has resulted in destabilisation of the region. Wages, training, and military equipment are expenses which few African countries can afford alone. Kenya, for example, had to disband its Police Reserve unit in 2004 as unpaid officers had turned to corruption to ensure a decent wage, despite the need to combat terrorism in the state as shown by the attack on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall[2]. Aid from the United States enables these African states to field financially viable forces which can then participate in counter-terrorism. Before military aid was cut to Egypt in 2013, the US provided $1.3 billion annually to support one of the strongest militaries on the continent[3].

[1] The World Bank ‘Least Developed Countries’

[2] Boniface,B., ‘Kenya to revive police reservists in Garissa to fight al-Shabaab’

[3] BBC ‘US withholds Egypt military aid over crackdown’


Africa has witnessed significant economic growth since the inception of the ‘War on Terror’, and it is predicted that between 2013 and 2023 there will be an annual increase in GDP of 6% a year[1]. This implies that US military assistance to help counter-terrorism activities will not be needed in the future to same extent.

In addition, the emergence of the African Union’s composite peacekeeping force has created an army with counter-terrorism abilities. This force draws from multiple countries which reduces the cost for each member, creating an economically viable African force.

[1] The Economist, ‘Africa rising: A hopeful continent’

There are few alternatives

The United States is the only significant actor in region which can be relied upon in counter-terrorism issues. Due to the “War on Terror” and a need to maintain a military equipment export industry[1], the US has been a reliable ally for many African states. The alternatives are less attractive. African nations often dislike their neighbours involving themselves in their affairs, exemplified by the second conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo – the Great War of Africa that drew in nations across the region attempting to secure their own interests. The limited effectiveness of the AU’s army has also prevented them from becoming a prominent actor in counter-terrorism. The failure of the AU’s measures in Sudan during 2003 forced them to appeal to the UN for aid. This was effectively an admission of failure[2], signifying these actors as weak in comparison to the USA.

[1]Plumer,B., ‘The U.S. sends Egypt far more military aid than it needs’

[2] Lyman, P. N., ‘The War on Terrorism in Africa’ pg.13


Other actors are gaining strength in the counter-terrorism scene. Despite its weaknesses, the AU has participated successfully in counter-terrorism actions such as that of Darfur and Somalia. Other Western actors have also presented themselves as an alternative. In 2012 France intervened in Mali and prevented extremist Muslim and Tuareg separatists from gaining control of the state. The US’ response to this same incident was limited in contrast demonstrating numerous alternatives to AFRICOM. 

Increased global security

The presence of US military equipment and counter-terrorism forces in Africa will result in greater security for the rest of the world. Many of the terrorist groups which have existed in the ‘ungoverned’ spaces of Africa have an international agenda. Al-Qaeda and other groups have used Africa as a base to plan attacks against the West, such as the 2004 Madrid bombing[1]. The disruption and eradication of these groups is therefore beneficial as it will prevent these groups from acting freely on the international stage.

[1] Lyman, P. N., ‘The War on Terrorism in Africa’ pg.2


Providing military assistance against terrorism can have a negative effect on global stability. Operation Restore Hope in Somalia misappropriated the state as a terrorist haven and anti-terror missions failed to target the nature of the conflict[1]. This led to continued instability within the country which then produced a significant Islamic, terrorist movement in 2006.

[1] Lyman, P. N., ‘The War on Terrorism in Africa’ pg.4

Many Africans do not prioritise counter-terrorism

The US focus on terrorism has detracted attention away from the more pressing issue of domestic crime. High rates of murder, manslaughter, rape, corruption and the illicit drug and small arms trades are of greater importance than counter-terrorism to many Africans. The misplacement of funds by USAID in states like Kenya, has detracted attention away from the major threats to citizens. Hills commented in 2006 that ‘their (Kenyans) concerns focus on the ineffectiveness of the country’s criminal justice system in the face of rising crime’ and claims that the counter-terrorist training received by them does little to improve domestic crime rates[1].

[1] Hills,A., ‘Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police’ pg.637


The rise in terrorist activity in Africa since 2006 has reshaped this priority. Following the Kenyan example, the Nairobi mall massacre and the subsequent attacks have acted to change the prioritisation of terrorism in some countries. In early 2014, Kenya’s Defence Secretary Raychelle Omamo stated that there was going to be a greater focus on counter-terrorism in the future[1], this event has shown many Africans that terrorism is an issue that requires serious attention.

[1] Otieno,B., ‘Kenya: China to Help Kenya Safeguard Territory’

Militarisation of US policy in Africa

The broadening of USAID to accommodate counter-terrorism assistance has detracted from long term development goals. When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice announced the change of USAID’s focus, the agency transformed from one of development to one of a ‘quasi-security’ nature[1]. Since 2001, USAID has been forced go beyond its traditional humanitarian role. Development goals, which are crucial dealing with the root causes of terrorism such as poverty and poor state-citizen relationships[2], are being sacrificed for short term military objectives. The military training of police has actually served to detract from development, as police financially exploit citizens with their newly gained power[3]. Africa’s urgent need for development suggests that the expansion of USAID’s role is disadvantageous for the continent.

[1] Hills,A., ‘Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police’ pg.629

[2] Gast,E., ‘U.S. Counterterrorism in the Sahel’

[3] Hills,A., ‘Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police’ pg.638


Counter-terrorism helps ensure security, which is closely linked to development. Before it is possible to improve health care, education, poverty and other development factors, it is necessary to have a secure environment[1]. The action to broaden USAID’s development agenda is therefore taking a more practical approach towards ensuring that long term growth can occur in a stable environment.

[1] Beswick,D. & Hammerstad,A., ‘African agency in changing security environment: sources, opportunities and challenges’ pg.476

Props up authoritarian regimes

The USA has helped solidify the rule of several oppressive regimes in Africa through its counter-terrorism assistance. In an effort to prevent terrorism from gaining a foothold in Africa, US policy has supported states which have poor human rights records, allowing them to continue brutal regimes. The training and equipping of counter terrorism units by the US has been linked to increased repression and unaccountability from police forces[1]. This approach strengthened the Sudanese regime, who committed atrocities in Darfur while simultaneously received aid from the USA[2]. US support on the continent could backfire if highly trained but repressive forces become prominent.   

[1] Hills,A., ‘Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police’ pg.638

[2] Lyman, P. N., ‘The War on Terrorism in Africa’ pg.13


The US Congress has taken steps to reduce security assistance to states which have committed mass human rights abuse[1]. In October 2013, President Obama announced cutbacks in military aid to Egypt after a military coup and crackdown on protestors[2]. In addition to these penalties, there are also good governance programmes run by USAID in unison with counter-terrorism policies to ensure a healthier transition to democracy, reducing the risk of repression[3].

[1] Ploch,L., ‘Countering Terrorism in East Africa: The U.S. Response’ pg.38

[2] Gordon,M.R., ‘In Crackdown Response, U.S. Temporarily Freezes Some Military Aid to Egypt’

[3] Ploch,L., ‘Countering Terrorism in East Africa: The U.S. Response’ pg.55

Disrupts international relations

US counter-terrorism support of certain African states has resulted in the indignation of their rival states. Africa’s complex history of conflicts has created enmity between states. The selection of some states for counter-terrorism support has weakened relations between these states and the United States. Eritrea, for example, has been hostile towards the United States due to the latter’s support of Ethiopia, who fought a war with Eritrea from 1998-2000. Eritrea accused the US of supporting Ethiopian occupation of Eritrean lands and caused the state to withdraw from US regional counter-terrorism plans[1].

[1] Lyman, P. N., ‘The War on Terrorism in Africa’ pg.7


In general, the USA’s counter terrorism assistance has led to greater regional co-operation. Shared intelligence and resources have become necessary to efficiently combat the global threat of terrorism. The US assisted a joint Mali-Niger venture to regain their desert regions, increasing co-operation between these two states[1]. Intelligence co-operation between North and Sahelian Africans has increased significantly since the beginning of the “War on Terror”, improving international relations between these countries.

[1] Lyman, P. N., ‘The War on Terrorism in Africa’ pg.18


Beswick,D. & Hammerstad,A., ‘African agency in changing security environment: sources, opportunities and challenges’, Conflict, Security and Development, 13:5 pgs.471-486

BBC, ‘Obama approves US military assistance to Somalia’, 09/04/13

BBC, ‘US forces join jungle search for Kony’, 30/04/12

BBC ‘US withholds Egypt military aid over crackdown’ 10/10/13

Boniface,B., ‘Kenya to revive police reservists in Garissa to fight al-Shabaab’, Shabahi, 13/05/13

Chalk,P., Dobbins,J., Fair,C.C., Jones,S.G., Lal,R., OlikerO., ‘Securing Tyrants or Fostering Reform’ National Security Research Division (RAND), 2006

The Economist, ‘Africa rising: A hopeful continent’, 02/03/13

Gast,E., ‘U.S. Counterterrorism in the Sahel’, Global Politics, data accessed 03/01/14

Gordon,M.R., ‘In Crackdown Response, U.S. Temporarily Freezes Some Military Aid to Egypt’, The New York Times, 09/10/13

Hills,A., ‘Trojan Horses? USAID, counter-terrorism and Africa’s police’, Third World Quarterly, 27:4, 2006 pgs. 629-643

Lyman, P. N., ‘The War on Terrorism in Africa’ in Africa in World Politics (eds. Harbeson,J. & Rothchild,D.), Colorado (Boulder): Westview Press 10/01/13

Metrinko,M.J., ‘The American Military Advisor’, The Middle East Quarterly, Spring 2009 16:2 pgs. 70-74

Otieno,B., ‘Kenya: China to Help Kenya Safeguard Territory’, The Star, 03/01/14

Ploch,L., ‘Countering Terrorism in East Africa: The U.S. Response’, Congressional Research Service Report for Congress, 03/11/10 pgs.1-72

Plumer,B., ‘The U.S. sends Egypt far more military aid than it needs’, Washington Post, 15/08/13

Shanker,T., ‘Armed U.S. Advisers to Help Fight African Renegade Group’, The New York Times, 14/10/11

United Nations Security Council, ‘Resolution 1566’, 08/10/04

The World Bank ‘Least Developed Countries’ data accessed 02/01/14