On September 10 President Obama gave a speech citing the mixed results against terror in Yemen and Somalia as models for how the U.S. will fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.
The U.S. has been carrying out airstrikes in Yemen for more than a decade, but Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) remains. And the U.S. has been targeting al-Shabaab in Somalia for nearly a decade, but al-Shabaab remains.
Victory has been elusive in both countries, yet both are now put forward as the pattern for U.S. efforts against ISIS.
The New York Times reports that Obama used his speech to express a desire to “degrade and ultimately destroy” ISIS, but to do so without putting U.S. “boots on the ground.” And this approach to war-fighting means we will be fighting ISIS for years to come, just as we have been fighting AQAP and al-Shabaab with no end in sight.
It also means the “boots” of U.S. Special Forces will still be on the ground–though unseen by public eyes–just as they are currently on the ground in Somalia. The Global Post reports that U.S. Special Forces have been “deployed in Somalia for years,” traveling with “African Union and Somalia troops providing advice and support on the ground in battles against al-Shabaab.”
And it certainly means that the “boots” of U.S. advisers will be on the ground. Obama announced “the deployment of 475 more troops to Iraq” during his speech on September 10. This “will bring the number of American troops in Iraq to 1,600.” This heavy reliance on “advisers” is reminiscent of another American war that began, ubiquitously, as an intention to avoid war–Vietnam.
The argument could be made that Obama’s approach to ISIS might actually lead to an expansion of the terror group, rather than a contraction. After all, The Long War Journal reports that the U.S. launched its first airstrike against Al Qaeda in Yemen in 2002, yet seven years later AQAP was reborn as “a force that could both challenge the Yemeni state and threaten the US homeland as well as American interests throughout the region.”
And now, in 2014, “the emir of AQAP…serves as Al Qaeda’s global general manager.”
In Somalia, where the U.S. “has been supporting African forces in their fight against Shabaab and its predecessor since 2006,” the results are different but not necessarily better. Shabaab was driven from strongholds in “most major cities” via an offensive launched in 2011, but they “still [control] much of the countryside in southern Somalia” today.
Moreover, they have been able to broaden the reach of their terror network in recent months.
As recently as July 2013 the United Nations reported that Shabaab’s “military strength…remains arguably intact, in terms of operational readiness, chain of command, discipline, and communication capabilities.”
Ten years from now, where will ISIS be? Will their military strength remain intact?
How expansive might their network become over the next decade if the history of Al Qaeda affiliates in Yemen and Somalia serve as indicators?
Follow AWR Hawkins on Twitter @AWRHawkins Reach him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.