Outsourcing the Fight Against Terrorism

March 11, 2013

The C-12 twin-engine turboprop drops through a break in the clouds, and Kenya’s tropical Lamu Archipelago, surrounded by coral-green waters, emerges like a lost continent. Cuticles of virgin white beach line a jungle that stretches back into the country’s interior. Banking, the pilot spots a short airstrip cut out of the foliage. The station below is one of the remotest outposts in an expanding U.S. network of staging bases in Africa. The clouds close when the rainy season arrives in mid-March, and Manda Bay can go for weeks, even months, without so much as a mail drop. The C-12 touches down on an unlit runway and stops.

Out comes Maj. Gen. Ralph Baker, commander of the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa. The organization was once a sleepy command focused on digging wells and liaising with local militaries. Now CJTF-HOA is remaking itself into a counterterrorism force bent on defeating transnational extremist groups in a region the size of America’s Eastern Seaboard. Baker is here on a hot January day to inspect a forward operating site crucial in his campaign to help destroy the terrorist group al-Shabaab in Somalia. American policymakers are already talking about how these battles offer a model for the fight against other Qaida affiliates in Africa.

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