Support for Allies in East Africa

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In light of the October 29th interception of two explosive devices on cargo flights departing from Yemen and headed for the West, the recently-released Congressional Research Service (CRS) report by Lauren Ploch, “Countering Terrorism in East Africa: The U.S. Response,” is both timely and relevant. As the report outlines and as many experts have warned, evidence points to increasingly close ties between Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, which has claimed responsibility for the shipment of the devices, and the Somali-based Al Shabaab group, both of which have been identified by the State Department as posing serious terrorist threats to the United States and U.S. interests.

The report reminds us that one of Al-Qaeda central’s most devastating pre-9/11 attacks – the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania – took place a little over a decade ago. Of course, the U.S. focus has shifted dramatically since then, toward Central Asia and the Middle East. The report requires us to refocus, however, on the region where Osama bin Laden was allowed to plan and carry out the 1998 attacks, where he sought protection against Western prosecution in the early-mid nineties, and which continues to be both the victim and source of regional instability and terrorism, as was demonstrated violently by the dual bombings in Kampala, Uganda during this past summer’s World Cup finals.

The report gives a mixed review of State and Defense Department efforts directed at shoring up security and development in the region over twelve years of conflict since the embassy bombings. It describes the State and Defense Departments' web of initiatives to provide training for counterterrorism, law enforcement, border security, counterterrorism financing, watch list development and implementation, arms transshipment prevention, and many other areas of security assistance, which are funded by a patchwork of Congressionally-appropriated accounts including:

  • Foreign Military Financing (FMF)

  • Foreign Military Sales (FMS)

  • IMET (International Military Education and Training)

  • Peace Keeping Operations (PKO)

  • East Africa Regional Strategic Initiative (EARSI)

  • Economic Support Funds (ESF)

  • and numerous others

The report also describes U.S. security efforts conducted in the region through AFRICOM, which are carried out by the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based in Djibouti, as well as U.S. support for the African Union's African Mission in Somalia (ANISOM), which maintains a presence to protect the Transitional Government in Somalia. In addition to support for security initiatives, the U.S. provides funding for programs like economic development and education in East Africa, which may have follow-on security benefits such as greater resistance against recruitment by insurgents.

Overall, funding support for these programs and others has increased in recent years demonstrating the commitment of the U.S. government to helping our allies in East Africa provide security for their people, and improve their security forces' ability to prevent attacks against the U.S. and U.S. interests launched from the region. However, the report points to shortfalls, if not in funding, in areas like inter-program coordination, international and transnational coordination, strategic planning, quality control, anti-corruption efforts, progress measurement, and other issues which can make or break the success of a complex regional security and development initiative as much as any funding shortfall can.

The mere fact that this report has been produced and that it asks hard questions about resource allocation, priorities and effectiveness concerning our current and planned security initiatives in the region reflects an appropriate and necessary focus on East Africa by the U.S. Congress. Now comes the difficult part: coming up with workable, viable approaches to answering those hard questions.

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