The United States government has implemented a range of programs to counter violent extremist threats in East Africa in response to Al Qaeda’s bombing of the U.S. embassies in Tanzania and Kenya in 1998 and subsequent transnational terrorist activity in the region. These programs include regional and bilateral efforts, both military and civilian. The programs seek to build regional intelligence, military, law enforcement, and judicial capacities; strengthen aviation, port, and border security; stem the flow of terrorist financing; and counter the spread of extremist ideologies. Current U.S.-led regional counterterrorism efforts include the State Department’s East Africa Regional Strategic Initiative (EARSI) and the U.S. military’s Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), part of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The United States has also provided significant assistance in support of the African Union’s (AU) peace operations in Somalia, where the country’s nascent security forces and AU peacekeepers face a complex insurgency waged by, among others, Al Shabaab, a local group linked to Al Qaeda that often resorts to terrorist tactics. The State Department reports that both Al Qaeda and Al Shabaab pose serious terrorist threats to the United States and U.S. interests in the region. Evidence of linkages between Al Shabaab and Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, across the Gulf of Aden in Yemen, highlight another regional dimension of the threat posed by violent extremists in the area.
Congress has appropriated increasing counterterrorism assistance for Africa over the past decade, and has demonstrated continued interest in both the nature of the terrorist threat and efforts to counter it through hearings, investigations, and legislation. Questions have been raised regarding
- the level of U.S. funding and personnel dedicated to these efforts;
- the underlying assumptions on which these programs have been developed;
- cooperation between implementing agencies; and
- the extent to which U.S. programs actually prevent or mitigate radicalization,
- recruitment, and support for violent extremist organizations.
This report provides an overview of current U.S. counterterrorism assistance programs and influence operations in East Africa and explores some of the strategies underpinning them. It also provides a brief description of the evolving terrorist threat in the region. The security cooperation and civil affairs activities of the U.S. military in the region have grown substantially in the past decade, primarily in response to these threats, and the report explores the various roles of the Departments of State, Defense, Homeland Security, Treasury, Justice, and the U.S. Agency for International Development, among other agencies, in implementing counterterrorism and counterextremism programs in the region. The report does not address covert or clandestine operations to collect intelligence or capture or eliminate terrorist targets in the region.
Related legislation includes several bills introduced in the aftermath of the July 2010 Kampala bombings: H.Con.Res. 303, H.Res. 1538, H.Res. 1596, and H.Res. 1708, as well as S.Res. 573, on Somalia; S. 3757, on Ethiopia; and H.Res. 1708, on Eritrea. For further information, see CRS Report R41070, Al Qaeda and Affiliates: Historical Perspective, Global Presence, and Implications for U.S. Policy, coordinated by John Rollins; CRS Report RL33911, Somalia: Current Conditions and Prospects for a Lasting Peace, by Ted Dagne; and CRS Report RL34003, Africa Command: U.S. Strategic Interests and the Role of the U.S. Military in Africa, by Lauren Ploch.