Damimola Olawuyi has served as a Geopolitical Analyst for SBM Intelligence. He can be found on Twitter @DAOlawuyi. Divergent Options’ content does not contain information of an official nature nor does the content represent the official position of any government, any organization or any group.

National Security Situation:  United States counterterrorism operations in Africa.

Date Originally Written:  April 10, 2020.

Date Originally Published:  May 4, 2020.

Author and / or Article Point of View:  The article is written from the point of view of the United States National Security Adviser.

Background:  In a speech before the Heritage Foundation[1], former National Security Adviser, Ambassador John Bolton, outlined a new Africa policy. This policy focused on countering the rising influence of China and by extension, other strategic competitors[2]. As great power competition returns to the fore, Africa is another battlefront between East and West. With vast mineral resources and a growing market, a new scramble for Africa has emerged between dominant and emerging powers. However, as military might has decimated violent Islamist groups in the Middle East, their subsidiaries in Africa have flourished. Groups like Islamic State for West Africa, Al-Shabaab, Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, and Ansar al-Sunna have capitalized on local government failings to entrench themselves. In recent days, they have carried out spectacular attacks on local government forces in Nigeria, Chad, Mali and Mozambique[3]. Although the involved governments and their allies have responded forcefully, it is clear that stability won’t be established in the near-term.

Significance:  The United States, United Kingdom, France, Turkey, Russia and China have deployed military assets in various parts of the African continent. The majority of these forces are focused on countering violent Islamist groups. While U.S. foreign policy concerning Africa focuses on achieving American strategic goals on the continent[4], it also takes into consideration the need to address the various local conflicts that threaten the security of investments and viability of governments. For the foreseeable future, any foreign policy towards Africa will need a robust counter terrorism component.

Option #1:  The U.S. military increases its footprint in Africa with conventional forces.

Risk:  This will widen America’s forever wars without guaranteeing success, stretching the already limited resources of the armed forces. While there is currently bipartisan support for continued engagement with Africa[5], it is doubtful that such backing will survive a prolonged intervention with significant losses. This option will also require the expansion of the United States Africa Command Staff at the operational level. Finally, moving the headquarters of the command onto the African continent despite the public opposition of prominent countries will be reexamined[6].

Gain:  The presence of significant U.S. forces embedded with combat troops has proven to improve the combat performance of local forces[7]. By providing advisers, reconnaissance assets, and heavy firepower, the U.S. will boost the morale of the fighting forces and provide them with freedom of action. The counter Islamic State campaign in Iraq and Syria can serve as a template for such operations. Such deployment will also allow U.S. assets to monitor the activities of competitors in the deployed region.

Option #2:  The U.S. expands the scale and scope of special operations units on the African continent.

Risk:  The absence of U.S. or similarly capable conventional forces on the ground to provide combined arms support limits and their effectiveness. While special operations units bring unique abilities and options, they cannot always substitute for the punching power of appropriately equipped conventional troops. The United States, sadly, has a history of insufficiently resourced missions in Africa suffering major losses from Somalia[8][9] to Niger[10].

Gain:  Special operations units are uniquely positioned to work with local forces. Historically, unconventional warfare and foreign internal defense has been the responsibility of units like the U.S. Army Special Forces[11]. Combined with units like the Army Rangers dedicated to conduct raids and enhancing operational security, it will allow the United States to put pressure on violent groups while mentoring and leading local forces to fulfill their security needs. It will also increase the number of assets available to meet emergencies.

Option #3:  The United States limits its role to advising and equipping local forces.

Risk:  Despite American support for African states, the security situation in Africa has continued to deteriorate. Decades of political instability and maladministration has created disgruntled populations will little loyalty to their countries of birth. Their militaries, regarded as blunt instruments of repression by civilians, lack the credibility needed to win hearts and mind campaigns critical to counter-insurgences. The supply of U.S. weapons to such forces may send the wrong signal about our support for prodemocracy movements on the continent.

Gain:  This option will fit with the current posture of the United Africa Command of enabling local actors mainly through indirect support[12]. The is a low cost, low risk approach for the U.S. military to build relationships in a part of the world where the armed forces continues to be major power brokers in society. This option keeps our forces away from danger for direct action.

Other Comments:  It is critical to acknowledge that any military campaign will not address the underlying problems of many African states. The biggest threats to African countries are maladministration and political instability. The United States has traditionally been a model and pillar of support for human rights activists, democratic crusaders and governance reformers. A United States push to ensure that bad actors cannot take advantage of security vacuums caused by a failure of governance while providing support for those looking to deliver society’s benefits to majority of their fellow citizens, would likely contribute to U.S. foreign policy goals.

Recommendation:  None.


[1] Bolton, J. (2018, December 13). Remarks by National Security Advisor John Bolton on the Trump Administration’s New Africa Strategy. Retrieved April 11 from

[2] Landler, M. and Wong, E. (2018, December 13). Bolton Outlines a Strategy for Africa That’s Really About Countering China. Retrieved April 11 from

[3] Jalloh, A. (2020, April 9). Increased terror attacks in Africa amid coronavirus pandemic. Retrieved April 10 from

[4] Wilkins, S. (2020, April 2). Does America need an African Strategy? Retrieved April 10 from

[5] Gramer, R. (2020, March 4). U.S. Congress Moves to Restrain Pentagon over Africa Drawdown Plans. Retrieved April 11 from

[6] (2008, February 18). U.S. Shifts on African base plans. Retrieved April 12 from

[7] Tilghman, A. (2016, October 24). U.S. troops, embedded with Iraqi brigades and battalions, push towards Mosul’s city center. Retrieved April 10 from

[8] Lee, M. (2017, September 16). 8 Things We Learnt from Colonel Khairul Anuar, A Malaysian Black Hawk Down Hero. Retrieved April 11 from

[9] Fox, C. (2018, September 24). ‘Black Hawk Down: The Untold Story’ recalls the soldiers the movie overlooked. Retrieved April 11 from

[10] Norman, G. (2018, March 15). U.S. forces ambushed in Niger again, military says. Retrieved April 11 from

[11] Balestrieri, S. (2017, August 17). Differences between Foreign Internal Defense (FID) and Counter Intelligence (COIN). Retrieved April 11 from

[12] Townsend, S. (2020, January 30). 2020 Posture Statement to Congress. Retrieved April 11 from