Amid the horrific headlines about the fanatical Islamist sect Boko Haram that should make Nigerians cringe, here’s a line from a recent Guardian article that should make Americans do the same, as the U.S. military continues its “pivot” to Africa: “[U.S.] defense officials are looking to Washington’s alliance with Yemen, with its close intelligence cooperation and CIA drone strikes, as an example for dealing with Boko Haram.”
In fact, as the latest news reports indicate, that “close” relationship is proving something less than a raging success. An escalating drone campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has resulted in numerous dead “militants,” but also numerous dead Yemeni civilians — and a rising tide of resentment against Washington and possibly support for AQAP. As the Washington-Sana relationship ratchets up, meaning more U.S. boots on the ground, more CIA drones in the skies, and more attacks on AQAP, the results have been dismal indeed: only recently, the U.S. embassy in the country’s capital was temporarily closed to the public (for fear of attack), the insurgents launched a successful assault on soldiers guarding the presidential palace in the heart of that city, oil pipelines were bombed, electricity in various cities intermittently blacked out, and an incident, a claimed attempt to kidnap a CIA agent and a U.S. Special Operations commando from a Sana barbershop, resulted in two Yemeni deaths (and possibly rising local anger). In the meantime, AQAP seems ever more audacious and the country ever less stable. In other words, Washington’s vaunted Yemeni model has been effective so far — if you happen to belong to AQAP.
One of the poorer, less resource rich countries on the planet, Yemen is at least a global backwater. Nigeria is another matter. With the largest economy in Africa, much oil, and much wealth sloshing around, it has a corrupt leadership, a brutal and incompetent military, and an Islamist insurgency in its poverty-stricken north that, for simple bestiality, makes AQAP look like a paragon of virtue. The U.S. has aided and trained Nigerian “counterterrorism” forces for years with little to show. Add in the Yemeni model with drones overhead and who knows how the situation may spin further out of control.
In response to Boko Haram’s kidnapping of 276 young women, the Obama administration has already sent in a small military team (with FBI, State Department, and Justice Department representatives included) and launched drone and “manned surveillance flights,” which may prove to be just the first steps in what one day could become a larger operation. Under the circumstances, it’s worth remembering that the U.S. has already played a curious role in Nigeria’s destabilization, thanks to its 2011 intervention in Libya. In the chaos surrounding the fall of Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi, his immense arsenals of weapons were looted and soon enough AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and other light weaponry, as well as the requisite pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns or anti-aircraft guns made their way across an increasingly destabilized region, including into the hands of Boko Haram. Its militants are far better armed and trained today thanks to post-Libyan developments.
All of this, writes Nick Turse, is but part of what the U.S. military has started to call the “new normal” in Africa. The only U.S. reporter to consistently follow the U.S. pivot to that region in recent years, Turse makes clear that every new African nightmare turns out to be another opening for U.S. military involvement. Each further step by that military leads to yet more regional destabilization, and so to a greater urge to bring the Yemeni model (and its siblings) to bear with… well, you know what effect. Why doesn’t Washington?