Counter-Terrorism: How to Win in the Horn of Africa


September 29, 2005: The fight against terrorism in Iraq has drawn lots of the headlines and protests, but one of the other theaters where al Qaeda is being fought is the Horn of Africa. This is one battle that al Qaeda has been losing, much as it is losing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Joint Task Force Horn of Africa is also training local military forces, including the Kenyan and Yemeni Coast Guards. Military-to-military training has been going on with Yemen, and is starting with Uganda and Tanzania. One of the few places they have not had much luck is Eritrea, which has been locked in a dispute with Yemen over the Hanish Islands in the Red Sea and which fought a two-and-a-half year border war with Ethiopia.

In the Horn of Africa, the major "combat units" are not special forces or infantry. Instead, these forces tend to be doctors, engineers, and even veterinarians. Very rarely are shots fired in anger. Instead, soldiers are often spending their time drilling a well in Djibouti or carrying out other projects that the local leaders think will help make life for their villagers easier - like building libraries and hospitals. Another initiative in Nairobi, by the name of Golden Spear, coordinates disaster relief in the region. These efforts today might not seem like much, but the effect is huge.

This theater of the war has a grand total of 1,400 personnel operating in an area five times larger than Iraq and Afghanistan combined. Yet, these 1,400 personnel are dealing al Qaeda serious strategic blows in a major offensive that is just as important as those in Iraq and Afghanistan. The organizations that have affiliated with al Qaeda need recruits, due to the fact that they are suffering heavy casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. Villagers who have had their goats treated by American veterinarians or who have seen American soldiers spend five months drilling a well, are not likely to flock to the banner of al Qaeda. They will be just as likely to tell the Americans, who came to help them improve their lives, that there have been terrorist recruitment efforts. The recruiters will then be followed, and more intelligence will be acquired before various al Qaeda cells get rolled up.

The war on terrorism has taken many forms - some of it is major combat as has been seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. In other places, it has been cooperation with local authorities, as has happened in Yemen. In the case of the Horn of Africa, a region is being systematically closed off to al Qaeda with few - if any - shots being fired through "nation-building" five years ago. Here, the battle is for hearts and minds, and it is being decisively won without fanfare or even notice, yet this offensive and the battles fought are arguably as important as any fought in Iraq or Afghanistan. - Harold C. Hutchison (


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