U.S. Senate African Affairs Subcommittee considers counterterrorism operations in the Horn

On Tuesday October 8th, the African Affairs Subcommittee of the Senate Foreign Affairs Committee convened a hearing to discuss, “Security and Governance in Somalia: Consolidating Gains, Confronting Challenges and Charting the Path Forward.”  The hearing was organized in response to a September 21st al-Shabaab orchestrated attack on Nairobi’s Westgate mall and took place just days after a failed Oct. 4th counterterrorist raid by U.S. Navy SEALs.

Witnesses of the hearing included:

  • Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs;
  • Amanda Dory, Deputy Assistant Defense Secretary for African Affairs;
  • Nancy Lindborg, Assistant Administrator, Bureau of Democracy, Conflict, and Humanitarian Assistance, U.S. Agency for International Development;
  • Andre Le Sage, Senior Research Fellow for Africa, Institute for National Strategic Studies, National Defense University;
  • Abdi Aynte, Director, Heritage Institute for Policy Studies; and
  • EJ Hogendoorn, Deputy Director for Africa, International Crisis Group.

Options for ways forward put forth in the hearing ranged from tightening security assistance cooperation between the Departments of Defense and State and ramping up capture and kill missions in Somalia, to shifting emphasis away from military support and instead towards supporting the central government, investing in governance reform, and expanding development assistance and foreign direct investment outside of the green zone.

To understand where U.S. policy may go, it is important to remember how it got to this point.

A Proxy Approach to the War on Terror

In the aftermath of the 1998 attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania and the 9/11 attacks in the United States, U.S. policy makers worried that Somalia could become a haven for al Qaeda.  With direct engagements forthcoming throughout the Middle East, the U.S. took a proxy approach to the Horn of Africa, enlisting Ethiopia, the African Union and eventually Kenya in the fight. 

According the Bronwyn Burton and Paul Williams in Foreign Policy magazine, “Washington’s enthusiasm for the proxy approach stems largely from its affordability and the desire to avoid deploying large numbers of American personnel in Somalia.”

Indeed, the U.S. has provided nearly $700 million of support to AMISOM and the Somali National Army since 2006.  The United States has paid about 30 percent of the roughly $1.1 billion spent by the U.N. Support Office for AMISOM since 2009.  In this same timeframe – since 2006 – we have also given $65 million in security and defense assistance to Ethiopia, and $190 million to Kenya.*

Doubling down or a new vision?

The military-led approach to countering al-Shabaab and affiliates in the Horn has largely failed to address the root causes of conflict in the Horn. It also undermines locally-led efforts to mitigate and transform conflict, leading to missed opportunities to support inclusive approaches to reconciliation.  Indeed, as Chairman Chris Coons (D-DE) stated in the hearing, “Despite [U.S.] investments, I’m concerned our strategy has not fully kept pace with changing realities on the ground.” 

According to the U.N. Security Council in February 2007 when it initially supported the creation of AMISOM, the solution to Somalia’s conflicts lies “not in killing particular individuals or backing one faction over others, but in pursuing an inclusive process of political reconciliation” that includes dialogue, economic development and social inclusion (PDF).  

Humanitarians and policy analysts alike continue to urge the U.S. government to shift away from short-term, military-led counterterrorism strategies in the Horn and instead shift to a longer-term frame for countering radicalization from the bottom up. 

Several organizations agree that the U.S. must develop effective, long-term counter- and de-radicalization strategies for all the countries in the Horn of Africa to reduce the appeal of radicalism and provide sustainable livelihood alternatives; promote locally-led processes for political reconciliation and conflict resolution by supporting community-based peace-building conferences; and urgently open space for humanitarian access to communities in need.

Legislation forthcoming

Despite the largely acknowledged failure in approach to current U.S. counterterrorism, the Obama Administration appears ready to double down on the same policies of the past decade – policies set by the administration but funded by Congress.  In remarks at the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Chris Coons announced two pieces of legislation forthcoming:

  1. “…I will soon introduce, along with Senator Flake, a resolution condemning the Westgate attack, and reaffirm U.S. support for Kenya and for regional efforts to counter terrorism;”
  2. “I intend to introduce legislation requiring the administration to present its Somali strategy to Congress, with benchmarks for progress and a timeline for implementation…”

Moreover, final appropriations for U.S. FY2014 security assistance and military training spending will be revealed in the coming weeks as the U.S. Congress must come to an agreement on a continuing budget resolution and debt-ceiling limit.  


* These numbers include estimated FY2014 funding levels. 


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