Today’s bombing news | 

A display by The Illuminator in Brooklyn after Boston bombings
A display by The Illuminator in Brooklyn after Boston bombings
The Illuminator, Kyle Depew

As a quick follow-up to my post on the Boston bombings We are all Boston but not Baghdad, Benghazi or Mogadishu — in which I encourage us to extend our empathy and concern beyond our borders — here’s some of today’s bombing news (which doesn’t include the bombs that regularly kill soldiers overseas):

Fox Bomb in Baghdad restaurant kills 4, wounds 11

Voice of America  Tanzanian church blast kills one, wounds 57

TMZ Aerosmith cancels Indonesia concert appearance after bomb scare

Sabahi Eleven killed in Mogadishu suicide bombing

AP Bomb at political rally in Pakistan kills 14

The point is simply that these kind of ‘terrorist’ acts happen elsewhere on a daily basis and are just as tragic, but seldom get much attention.

Is Africa the new ‘playground’ for Al Qaeda? | 


That’s the gist of a new report by Global Post, which says the links between local rebel movements in Mali, Nigeria and Somalia and the Islamist terror group Al Qaeda are growing stronger. The report coincides with today’s anniversary of the terrorist attacks of 9-11.

It’s a good series, but I can’t help but worry that this angle will translate into a simplistic pitch for a military response to the continent’s troubles with various separatist movements. Are these conflicts really about Al Qaeda? I’m not so sure.

Here’s an artsy map accompanying the GP’s series on this thesis:

Al Qaeda in Africa

Some of these alleged linkages to Al Qaeda are not new, of course, and most are often preceded by squishy lingo such as “believed to be” linked with or “has ties to” the terror group.

It’s often not clear just how strong such ties are, or even if they mean much more than sharing a similar ideology or antipathy. Nigeria’s Boko Haram, for example, is perhaps best thought of as an Islamist separatist movement that has only recently sought to ally itself with Al Qaeda. Does that translate into anything on a material basis, or is it just a boast aimed at boosting the group’s terrorizing image?

Somalia’s Al Shabaab clearly considers itself part of Al Qaeda. But militant movements in parts of Africa and hostility to the U.S. goes way back (remember Blackhawk Down?) and it would be simplistic to think this is all due to Al Qaeda’s influence.

In any case, the possibility of a growing Al Qaeda movement in Africa should be taken seriously. Bin Laden had his base in Sudan for many years in the early 1990s. The question is how best to respond to this trend. Will we take the standard route and support a policy of responding to terror simply with military or police actions? Or will we also battle for hearts and minds?

Gen. Carter F. Ham, head of the U.S. Africa Command, aka AfriCom, had this to say today:

To successfully defeat terrorism requires not only the collective efforts of many nations, but it requires the combined effects of military, diplomatic, development, economic, good governance, education, food security – it requires all of those to work in concert to address the underlying causes that establish the conditions in which young people, primarily young men, find themselves attracted to these terrorist organizations.

Sounds good, but AfriCom (which was launched by Donald Rumsfeld during the Bush Administration) has yet to actually find a home anywhere in Africa. It was supposed to be headquartered somewhere on the continent in 2008 but has so far remained in Stuttgart, Germany.

Africans, and others, appear reluctant to allow the U.S. military to establish a large presence there. And a new survey indicates many Americans are also not that interested in expanding our military footprint overseas.

If Al Qaeda is indeed gaining turf in parts of Africa, the first step is make sure we understand why. Are these separatist groups joining forces with Al Qaeda for ideological or practical reasons? Was Ho Chi Minh primarily a communist or a Vietnam nationalist? Many would say the failure to answer this question accurately prompted what was, until Afghanistan, our longest war.

Al Qaeda is probably best thought of as a fungus rather than as a military force. It tends to only really flourish in places of rot – places of poverty, injustice and dysfunction.

Sure, it’s a lot more fun and entertaining to use a flame-thrower to fight a fungus. But the more reasonable approach is to just stop the rot.

After 9/11: How the global humanitarian agenda was changed, or not | 

Flickr, Dimitra Tzanos

Today is the tenth anniversary of the day after 9/11.

We’ve seen a torrent of amazing, compelling and painful stories of the terrorist attack over the past week or so. The narrative of that tragic event has become a touchstone for many of us, a way of explaining our sense of ourselves and of why we do what we do — here and overseas.

I’m interested in what has happened since.

Specifically, I wondered what has happened to our sense of ourselves as global citizens and how Sept. 11, 2001, may have altered matters of global health, foreign aid, development — basically, the global humanitarian agenda.

The short answer: It’s a mixed bag of good and bad, some clear signs of what many see as progress but also some disturbing lessons not learned.

Nearly 3,000 Americans died on Sept. 11, 2001. The world, for a while, rallied around us — including, it should be emphasized, many groups like the Muslim Brotherhood we nevertheless continue to eye with suspicion — as nearly everyone condemned this stunning crime against humanity.

We went to war, in Afghanistan and then Iraq (which turned out to have little to do with the attack or al-Qaeda).

U.S. Army

U.S. Army in Afghanistan

As the New York Times noted in its extensive special anniversary report The Reckoning, the largely military and national security response to this act of terrorism has so far cost us $3.3 trillion — not to mention the cost of lives of some 6,000 American soldiers and at least 100,000 Iraqi citizens.

It’s hard to imagine not retaliating to such an assault, but as The Economist noted, “America has precious little to show for this sacrifice apart from the disruption of al-Qaeda.” The editors add that Osama bin Laden, were he alive, “would have cause to feel satisfied” at the toll the attack has taken on the U.S. … and then suggests, unhelpfully perhaps, that we still need to keep our guard up.

So where are we with the global humanitarian agenda? Continue reading