NAIROBI, Kenya — By the time U.S. military forces left Somalia in 1994 after entering the lawless nation more than a year earlier to stop a famine, 44 Army soldiers, Marines and airmen had been killed and dozens more wounded.
Thus ended America’s last large-scale military intervention in Africa.
But the U.S. has come back, using special forces advisers, drones and tens of millions of dollars in military aid to combat a growing and multifaceted security threat.
This time the United States is playing a less obtrusive role but is focusing once again on Somalia.
While putting few U.S. troops at risk, the United States also is providing intelligence and training to fight militants across the continent, from Mauritania in the west along the Atlantic Ocean, to Somalia in the east along the Indian Ocean.
The Pentagon is paying a lot more attention to Africa than in years past, analysts say.
c A hard-line Islamist group in Nigeria, Boko Haram, bombed the U.N. headquarters in the capital in August, killing 23 people.
c A Nigerian man tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas 2009 - the flight was saved only because of an explosives malfunction - which the bomber carried from Lagos, Nigeria.
c An al Qaeda group known as AQIM that operates in the west and north of Africa kidnaps foreigners, making vast tracts no-go areas.
c And, most worrisome to the United States, an al Qaeda-linked group in Somalia has recruited dozens of Americans.
“If you ask me what keeps me awake at night, it is the thought of an American passport-holding person who transits through a training camp in Somalia and gets some skill and then finds their way back into the United States to attack Americans here in our homeland,” Army Gen. Carter Ham, commander of the U.S. Africa Command, said in Washington last month. “That’s mission failure for us.”
U.S. and European officials also worry that AQIM is working to establish contacts with Boko Haram and al-Shabab, the Islamist Somali insurgent group.
“I think the security threats emanating from Africa are being taken more seriously than they have been before, and they’re more real,” said Jennifer Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
The U.S. is conducting counterterrorism training and equipping militaries in countries including Algeria, Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Tunisia to “preclude terrorists from establishing sanctuaries,” according to the U.S. Africa Command, which is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.
In Somalia, the U.S. helps support 9,000 troops from Uganda and Burundi to fight militants in Mogadishu, the Somali capital.