Review (Guest): The Dark Sahara: America’s War on Terror in Africa

4 Star, Asymmetric, Cyber, Hacking, Odd War, Complexity & Catastrophe, Culture, Research, Empire, Sorrows, Hubris, Blowback, Insurgency & Revolution, Military & Pentagon Power, Misinformation & Propaganda, Terrorism & Jihad, Voices Lost (Indigenous, Gender, Poor, Marginalized), War & Face of Battle
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Jeremy Keenan

Phi Beta Iota:  See Berto Jongman: Algeria Fronting for US in Fabricating Al Qaeda Threat and Legitimizing US Military Occupation of Sahara? for a short-hand version of the book.  On balance and sight unseen we give the book four stars for provocation, while respecting the guest review below as being meritorious in its own right.

2.0 out of 5 stars Could be so much better, good premise, but unfortunately not based on too much fact, November 12, 2011

By Andrew Wasily

I like the premise of this book, that is basically why I bought it and read it. Unfortunately, Dr. Keenan has not based his book on much fact, but more conspiracy, and a belief that the United States is smart enough to enter into a grand conspirarcy with Algeria to dupe the region. I would have liked more of a cultural analysis about the threat of the United States military entering into the Sahara and Sahel.

The argument seems to me that the United States created the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and has focused much more military attention on Africa and African terrorist threats. The U.S., especially the military, can be very naive and see national interest in a fight against terrorists such as AQIM in the Sahel, Boko Haram in Nigeria, or al Shabaab in Somalia. If you look closer, these “terrorist” groups are very small, have little traction among the local population, and are hoping that the U.S., French, UK, give them some military attention so that they can become stronger (make this a war against the U.S.). A direct attack on these groups by the U.S., can only cause more conflict. There is very little the U.S. can do against these groups as terrorists. Africans and the international community likely needs to see these groups as criminal networks, insurgencies, and on the brink of losing legitimacy. It would seem to me that the U.S. and international community has to invest in police training, rule-of-law and court system reform, building new jails and training staff to properly treat inmates. The response to a supposed “terrorist” threat is what AFRICOM senior leaders know will be funded by Congress . . . you cannot justify programs by building capacity and working on rule-of-law.

As case in point is the Obama Administration’s response to the famine in Somalia. In fear of looking soft on terrorists, the Obama adminstration is not clearing the way for food aid to go into al Shabaab controlled areas. This is likely because the Republicans would jump on any food aid to “terrorists”. Yet, Obama is ready to fiddle away as thousands die. In a year or so, 500,000 Somalis will be dead of hunger due to the “fight on terrorism”. You can’t eat bullets or good intentions.

Dr. Keenan should have explored AFRICOM’s and the U.S.’ misguided foray into Africa. How the U.S. military is trying to find a fight where there is none. Why U.S. diplomats and policymakers don’t have the imagination to concentrate on the root cause of many problems: predatory police and military, lack of rule-of-law, poverty, corruption, unemployment . . . not terrorism.

Dr. Keenan’s argument should also explore that the U.S. has a big stick now, with little African cultural, linguistic, and area knowledge. The U.S. has shown that if it has a stick, it will use it to protect its interests. Or give African militaries bigger sticks to crack skulls. However, the U.S. has to find a villan to fight, and even if AQIM and al Shabaab are mostly criminals, the U.S. has to call them “terrorists” and show that it is doing something to combat the threat. I believe that Dr. Keenan should put his effort to this question . . . how are the U.S. military’s maladroit efforts going to upset the balance in the Sahel and Sahara. Base it on fact and not on friends and contacts. Then, find a way to advocate and clearly illustrate why the U.S. should not be allowed to take the war on terror to Africa. This book needed to be better researched, better thought through, and much less conspiratory.

Dr. Keenan gives us a very black and white answer to an extremely complex problem. I would really like to see a follow-on to this book, but more along the lines of the International Crisis Groups 2005 paper. A very well-thought-out and crafted paper that needs updating: Islamist Terrorism in the Sahel: Fact or Fiction? […]

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