While much of our attention is focused on ISIS and the Middle East, a closer look at the news cycle during the past two days reveals the extent to which the U.S. military has expanded its presence in Africa, where it is providing support for French counter-terrorism operations against militant Islamist groups.
As the Washington Post's national security blog observes, we've seen a lot of U.S. military reports emerging from Africa this week:
First, word came Monday afternoon that a CH-53E Super Stallion helicopter carrying 17 Marines and eight sailors had crashed in the Gulf of Aden, off the coast of Djibouti and Somalia….[They] were returning to the USS Mesa Verde, an amphibious ship, from training in Djibouti.
Monday night, the Pentagon followed that by acknowledging a counter-terrorism mission in Somalia. U.S. officials told The Washington Post that the mission targeted Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr, widely known as Godane, who had taken control of the militant group al-Shabab.
This morning in The Washington Post, Craig Whitlock also reports that the U.S. military has opened another drone base in Niger, in the city of Agadez, at the edge of territory under the influence of militants….U.S. troops also are said to operate from a French base in Chad near Nigerian territory where the Islamist group Boko Haram have abducted hundreds of men, women and children in waves over the last year.
The U.S. drone strike against al-Shabab is raising eyebrows among international legal experts. The reason? Under the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force passed by Congress, the president has free reign to target members of al-Qaeda or an "associated force" of al-Qaeda. However, the Obama administration has never publicly claimed that al-Shabab is an associated force.
The rationale for the strike, according to the Defense Department's General Counsel Stephen Preston, is that "the U.S. has used force against certain al-Shabab militants in Somalia not because it has deemed al-Shabab an 'associated force,' but instead because those 'limited number of targets' have 'been determined to be part of al-Qaeda' itself."
If, in the future, the U.S. were to begin targeting members of militant groups who have no direct ties to al-Qaeda, then as NYU law professor Ryan Goodman notes:
a major new front in the post-9/11 US war footing has opened—and the administration has not informed the American public. There is no indication that we are there (yet)