US adopts aggressive strategy on war against terrorism

Saturday November 11 2017

US President Donald Trump

US President Donald Trump speaks during a state dinner with Vietnamese President Tran Dai Quang (right) in Hanoi on November 11, 2017. Mr Trump has eliminated the posts of US special envoy for the Great Lakes region and for Sudan/South Sudan. PHOTO | JIM WATSON | AFP 

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One year after his election as president of the United States, Donald Trump has further militarised Washington's dealings with Africa while taking a more unilateral and decentralised approach to the continent.

"You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less," Republican Senator Lindsey Graham remarked recently in regard to strategic shifts in the US global war on terrorism.

"You’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less. You’re going to have decisions being made not in the White House but out in the field."

That new policy has been given concrete expression in Somalia, where the US has stepped up drone strikes on targets identified as Al-Shabaab encampments.

On November 10, for example, the US Africa Command announced it had killed "several" Shabaab fighters in the latest of more than a dozen air attacks this year inside Somalia.

The strikes became more frequent following a Trump directive in March designating parts of Somalia as war zones and giving US field commanders greater leeway in launching attacks.

With at least 6,000 US troops now said to be deployed in various African countries, the Pentagon is involved in offensive operations in the Sahel region as well as in the Horn.

A total of five US soldiers have been killed since May in the course of such actions in Somalia and Niger.

The growing reliance on military might in Africa is accompanied by a lessened investment in diplomacy.

This adjustment in priorities can be seen in Mr Trump's budget proposals, which would lift Pentagon spending by nine per cent while lowering State Department allocations by 29 per cent.

In addition, the US was the catalyst for a United Nations decision in June to cut its annual peacekeeping outlay by $600 million.

And that in turn resulted in a 7.5 per cent reduction in Washington's $2 billion contribution to the UN blue helmets' previous yearly budget of nearly $8 billion.

The Trump team has also resisted an African Union push for more direct UN funding for the AU's military mission in Somalia (Amisom).

Washington's opposition to enhancing the UN role in Somalia relates to Mr Trump's preference for unilateral US decision-making in wars against Islamist forces in Africa.

Mr Trump has also been slow to fill Africa-related diplomatic posts.

He has yet to nominate ambassadors to fill vacancies at US embassies in Tanzania, South Sudan, Democratic Republic of Congo and South Africa.

Former President Obama's move to name a US envoy to Somalia for the first time in decades has also been left hanging following the resignation of his appointee in October.

Mr Trump has also eliminated the posts of US special envoy for the Great Lakes region and for Sudan/South Sudan.

Donald Yamamoto, a career diplomat with long experience in Africa, was given the State Department's top Africa job on an acting basis in August.

But Mr Yamamoto's announced appointment for no more than a one-year period is causing him to be seen as a temporary figure with little autonomy.

And that has resulted in ambassadors acquiring enhanced authority to shape US policies in their respective countries.


Raila Odinga complained about this devolution in the case of Kenya during a speech at a Washington think tank on November 9.

"We need a much fuller engagement from the many arms of government" in Washington rather than leaving Kenya policy mainly to US diplomats in Nairobi, Mr Odinga declared.

"Their efforts have sometimes contributed to the problem," the Nasa leader said.

All these developments have occurred within the context of Mr Trump's own lack of attention to — and knowledge of — Africa.


In one of his few interactions with Africans since his victory, the president hosted a luncheon for leaders of nine sub-Saharan countries in September on the sidelines of UN General Assembly meetings in New York.

But in his speech, Mr Trump made reference to the non-existent country of "Nambia", and suggested that Africa could serve as a source of riches for "so many friends" of his.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has exhibited a similar degree of inattention to Africa.

In a meeting with State Department employees in August, Mr Tillerson embarked on a figurative "little walk...around the world" that did not pass through Africa.

Nikki Haley, the US ambassador to the UN, has emerged as the leading Trump administration spokesperson on Africa affairs.

Ms Haley, a former state governor, had no previous professional experience in diplomacy.

She offered standard Washington rhetoric while undertaking a recent trip to South Sudan and the DRC.

"The United States very much sees Africa as a very important part of the world," Ambassador Haley said.

"We see great opportunities in Africa, we see challenges in Africa, but we want to support and help in those situations."

Ms Haley also delivered familiar messages to the leaders of those countries, saying the US wants the South Sudan government to do more to end a ruinous civil war and telling DRC leader Joseph Kabila to respect democratic norms.

Mr Trump's Africa policy does, in some ways, reflect continuity with the approaches taken by both his Democratic and Republican predecessors.

Officials have indicated that the signature Africa-related initiatives of Mr Obama and George W Bush — the Power Africa electrification project and the Pepfar anti-Aids programme, respectively — will be sustained, though perhaps in somewhat diminished form.

Mr Trump will also not rescind Agoa's preferential trade terms for Africa adopted during Bill Clinton's presidency, US officials have said.

But the Republican president apparently intends to take a harder line toward countries deemed to be less than fully compliant with Agoa's stipulations.

Rwanda, Tanzania and Uganda are each facing possible loss of Agoa eligibility due to Trump trade officials' contention that they have violated the programme's requirements by banning imports of used clothing from the United States.