By William Tucker
Chief Correspondent for In Homeland Security
U.S. President Barack Obama recently stated that he intends to maintain a troop presence of 5,500 in Afghanistan beyond 2016.
The president’s original idea of keeping 1,000 troops in the Central Asian nation was largely rejected by his opposition, U.S. military leaders, and the Afghan government. Recently demonstrated by the Taliban assault and 15 day hold on the city of Kunduz, Afghan troops still struggle to maintain a hold on their country. For its part, the Taliban will maintain their insurgency until they can reach some sort of political accord that allows for their continued existence. Unfortunately, the Taliban suffers from fragmentation, and each different segment seemingly has diverse ideas of how any political settlement, or even talks for that matter, should proceed.
Elsewhere, the U.S. military is expanding its presence in Africa by sending 300 service members to Cameroon to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) support to Nigerian forces battling Boko Haram. The U.S. military has been engaged in West Africa for some time with military operations in Niger, Mali, Algeria, and Mauritania just to name a few.
The militant picture in North and West Africa is rather diverse, and the territory where these operations are taking place is astonishingly vast making operations difficult. That said, local forces have benefited from U.S. ISR support – allowing the U.S. to prosecute its war on terror in the region without having to dedicate a substantial troop presence that would otherwise be necessary to cover such a large area – running the risk of alienating local governments and their citizens.
Early in the War on Terror, the U.S. was forced to rely on large troop deployments to fight in the various locations that hosted an al-Qaida presence. Many of the deployed forces didn’t play a combat role and essentially worked logistics. As the war evolved, intelligence operations improved and the military logistics were already in place and effective enough to allow for a smaller troop presence in many theaters of combat. Likewise, many local forces also improved in effectiveness, but many still rely on U.S. support. This doesn’t mean that the threat posed by militancy has been eliminated, but many militaries in the impacted areas have become more adept at responding to the threat.
In the case of Nigeria, however, the nation is politically complicated and allowing U.S. forces into the country proper may have adverse effects, but supporting the Nigerian military from bordering nations that are also threatened by Boko Haram is certainly helpful.