Equilibri mondiali: USA e le politiche militari in Africa (in inglese) Strategy military U.S. in Africa

WASHINGTON—The White House has promoted a strategy of keeping as light a U.S. footprint as possible in Africa, focusing on training and funding local militaries and providing logistical and intelligence support to African Union-led combat operations.

But events in Mali, Algeria and other countries are now spurring a reconsideration of the military role the U.S. should take on the continent, U.S. officials said.

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Google Earth/ReutersA satellite image of the facility in Algeria where terrorists seized Algerian and foreign hostages on Wednesday.

The White House and African analysts have voiced fears that a more direct U.S. role could weaken local governments and further inflame Islamist extremism. U.S. officials have also questioned the direct national security threat posed by such Africa-based militants as AQIM, Somalia’s al-Shabaab militia and the Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa.

Obama administration officials said this strategic view is being challenged by the rising terrorist activities in North Africa, including the abduction this week of Western hostages, including Americans, working at a natural-gas field in Algeria. Reports that the militants are demanding the release of two Islamic extremists from American prisons have emphasized their conflict with the U.S.

The hostage crisis follows September’s terrorist attack on the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya, which killed four Americans. Piracy linked to Islamist extremists also is posing a rising threat to international shipping off Africa.

Some American military officials said this week that AQIM, which is also active in Libya, Morocco, and Algeria, has grown more dangerous, more quickly than many assumed several years ago.

The Obama administration this month said it is providing limited logistical and intelligence support to a French military intervention in northern Mali, where Islamists militants fighting under the banner of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, or AQIM, have carved a regional haven.

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Algerian TV/ReutersA video image of some of the hostages after they were freed on Friday.

The quick rise of Islamist militants, officials said, may mean that drones assigned to hunt al Qaeda’s leadership in Pakistan, or al Qaeda’s affiliate in Yemen, could be reassigned to Africa.

Rep. Mike Rogers (R., Mich.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview that he still doesn’t see a cohesive administration approach to countering gains by al Qaeda and Islamist militants across the continent. “You have to have an overarching policy that puts pressure on these groups from every corner,” he said. “That is what’s missing.”

President Barack Obama could visit Africa this year, making stops in several democratic countries, administration officials said.

Africa emerged as a national-security challenge for Mr. Obama during his first term, even as he sought to focus on winding down the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and pivot U.S. military assets to Asia to deter the rising power of China.

Hostage Crises

A look back.

The Obama administration launched military airstrikes in Libya in 2011 in support of a North Atlantic Treaty Organization campaign that helped overthrow the late leader Moammar Gadhafi’s government in Tripoli. The Pentagon and Central Intelligence Agency have also lent significant support to countries including Somalia and Uganda in their fights against powerful Islamist militias.

The current U.S. strategy emphasizes both counterterrorism operations and what the administration calls “building partner capacity.” As part of the military’s strategy under Mr. Obama, an Army brigade will send small teams of soldiers to Africa to train local militaries.

The U.S. also has special operations teams conducting training missions in central Africa, where governments in Uganda, the Central African Republic and the Democratic Republic of Congo are combating the Lord’s Resistance Army, a regional Islamist militia.

Somalia, in particular, is being touted as a success story by the Obama administration, which renewed U.S. diplomatic relations this week with Mogadishu for the first time in 20 years. Somali troops have been fighting a protracted war with the al-Shabaab Islamic militia, which looked poised just a few years ago to take power.

“Today, thanks to the extraordinary partnership between the leaders and people of Somalia, with international supporters, al-Shabaab has been driven from Mogadishu and every other major city in Somalia,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said Thursday following a meeting with Somalia President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud.

U.S. officials involved in Somalia said the weakening of al-Shabaab was achieved through extensive American military training and intelligence cooperation with Mogadishu, as well as economic assistance. They also cited the role of African Union troops, from countries including Uganda, Burundi and Kenya, in supporting the Somali government’s fight against al-Shabaab.

Though weakened, al-Shabaab this week claimed to have executed a French hostage; French officials said he was believed to have been assassinated days earlier during a failed rescue attempt.

Roger Carstens, a former Army Special Forces officer who helps train Somali forces in East Africa, said America should embrace a lean strategy that avoids sending in its own forces to fight wars across Africa.

“The future of warfare in Africa is going to be an odd mixture of odd tactics from the 1970s and new technology like drones, with less boots on the ground,” said Mr. Carstens, who serves as a country manager in Somalia for Bancroft Global Development, a private firm that helps train the nation’s military forces.

Some counterterrorism experts in Washington question if the Obama administration will be able to keep itself out of a more direct fight. They cited, in particular, the French intervention in Mali, and the risks posed to the region if Paris is unsuccessful in crippling the al Qaeda-linked militias fighting there.

“Now that the intervention has been made, now that we are providing at least some aid to the French, it’s better to ensure we finish this off than to let it drag on,” said Bruce Hoffman, an al Qaeda specialist at Georgetown University.

He noted that last year’s NATO campaign in Libya should serve as a cautionary tale to Washington. The U.S., he said, was able to limit its direct military involvement and succeeded in helping to overthrow Gadhafi. But he said Islamic extremists maintain a strong presence in the North African country, and were directly involved in the attack on the U.S. diplomatic mission in Benghazi in September.

“In Libya, we led from behind, and I don’t think the long-term outcome has necessarily been to our advantage,” Mr. Hoffman said. “It hasn’t left a stable country, and it’s created new problems. I don’t think we can afford to repeat the situation in Mali or Algeria.”

Write to Jay Solomon at jay.solomon@wsj.com and Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com

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