How Should U.S. Respond to Terror Attacks in Uganda?

Somalian group al-Shabaab takes credit

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Al-Shabaab, a brutal Somalian insurgency, has claimed credit for the attacks that killed 74 civilians in Kampala, Uganda, on Sunday. The bombings shocked many East Africa observers as al-Shabaab has never before struck outside Somalia and Uganda does not have an extensive history of terrorism. Most analysts ascribe al-Shabaab's attacks to the group's ongoing battle in the Somalian civil war, to which Uganda contributes 2,000 peacekeepers. How much should this concern the U.S. and how can, or should, the U.S. respond?

  • Growing Concern Among U.S. Policy Makers  The New York Times' Mark Landler reports "deepened worries among American authorities about another once localized Islamic group that is spreading its terrorism across borders, using a playbook written by Al Qaeda. ... Analysts and officials said the emergence of the Shabab on the world stage fit a pattern of localized Islamic militant groups that have been able to mount sophisticated operations farther and farther afield, including the attempt by a Qaeda-linked group to blow up a plane on its way to Detroit on Dec. 25. ... 'This was a localized cancer, but the cancer has metastasized into a regional crisis,' said Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for African affairs."
  • Increase U.S. Operations in Somalia  The editorial board of the Washington Post frets, "The Obama administration hasn't ignored the danger: In addition to providing aid to the Somali government and army, it has ordered raids by U.S. forces on terrorist targets in Somalia. ... But Kenya's foreign minister, Moses Wetangula, was right when he said last week -- before the Uganda bombings -- that the United States was not doing enough to combat the threat. The Somali government and army need more help, and ideally, more foreign forces; more should be done to stop the flow of weapons into the country. More U.S. counterterrorism operations against al-Shabab leaders should be undertaken."
  • But Foreign Involvement in Somalia Very Risky  Foreign Policy's Elizabeth Dickinson writes, "In Somalia's two-decade history of ungoverned chaos, it has been well-meaning foreign intervention -- whether military or political -- that has consistently refigured the country's course. Usually, for the worse. Now the attempt to address al-Shabab's broadening capabilities could kick off another round of international intervention in Somalia, with equally dismal results."
  • Will Uganda Leave Somalia?  Uganda plays an important role for the U.S. as a proxy peacekeeping force in Somalia, where the U.S. wants stability but cannot send in its own troops for legal reasons as well as a desire not to provoke an anti-American backlash. Foreign Policy's Michael Wilkerson worries, "Yesterday's attacks, however, are likely to force the Ugandan government to rethink -- or at least justify -- its involvement in Somalia. Indeed, across Uganda today, questions are already being raised. Many Ugandans are now wondering why their country went to Somalia in the first place and are seeing the attacks as a good reason to leave."
  • Watch Carefully for al-Qaeda Connection  There's no substantive connection yet, but al-Qaeda analyst Leah Farrall says we should keep our eyes peeled for a possible merger. "al-Shabab just earned its stripes, which as we’ve seen with previous mergers, is a pre-requisite before formal AQ core recognition. ... AQ could use the benefits a merger with the group would bring. ... I’d guess that as a result of this AQ has revisited its stance on al-Shabab over the past little while, even though very real concerns exist about al-Shabab’s conflict  with other groups within Somalia, some of whose leaders have historical links with AQ."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.