Since the killing of the U.S. soldiers, Niger authorities have made things worse, rounding up village leaders and ordering thousands of people to evacuate the area where the Americans were ambushed in order to escalate the war on local militants.
The outcome will, of course, be the exact opposite of what Washington intends. As University of Kent professor Yvan Guichaoua said, “Targeting these groups is the best way to make their leaders heroes, foster unity in jihadi ranks, and inflame communal violence. All policymakers working in the area know well the highly inflammable nature of the situation.”
Unfortunately, the Trump administration has almost no one “working in the area.” President Trump only got around to announcing his intent to nominate an ambassador to Niger on September 2. The administration has deployed only five ambassadors to a continent of fifty-four countries and has not yet appointed a senior policymaker for Africa in the State Department.
Africa is suffering from a host of maladies, including ineffectual and corrupt governance, severe climate change, crumbling infrastructure and technological backwardness—as well as civil wars and insurgencies. The United Nations just warned that the continent needs eleven million more doctors, nurses and teachers to prevent a “social and economic disaster” by 2030.
Trying to address these complex ailments through increased U.S. armed intervention will simply aggravate the problem, as it has in so many other parts of the world. That should be the real lesson we take from the tragic failure of the recent U.S. military mission in Niger, and from the broader tragedy of our post–9/11 response to terrorism abroad.
Jonathan Marshall, an independent journalist and scholar, is author or co-author of five books related to national security or international relations, including The Lebanese Connection: Corruption, Civil War, and the International Drug Traffic (Stanford University Press, 2012).