As the United States looks to wind down the war in Afghanistan and grapples with upheaval in Syria, several smaller conflicts in sub-Saharan Africa and the Middle East also could have national security implications for the United States and its allies.
These "internal political crises," as Center for Strategic and International Studies senior fellow Robert Lamb describes them, could destabilize an entire region or prompt the U.S. to intervene either politically or militarily to prevent an escalation through actions ranging from economic sanctions to drone attacks.
But Lamb warns: "We aren't always all that good at addressing these sorts of situations."
Here are five smaller political conflicts that hold dangers for the United States:
- Mali: In recent days, France has intervened in the African nation with the deployment of hundreds of troops to key areas and with the launch of aerial assaults on Islamic militants advancing from the north. Though the U.S. is only providing logistical and surveillance assistance to France, Islamic militant groups linked to al-Qaida in northern Mali could use their territory to launch attacks on Western nations or jeopardize peace in neighboring countries. Analysts liken the stronghold that Islamic extremist groups have in the north to what the Taliban had in Afghanistan during the 1990s.
- Somalia: As the Somali government tries to take control of the war-torn nation in the Horn of Africa, the U.S. has conducted airstrikes there during President Obama's tenure. The strikes from American unmanned drones have targeted al-Qaida-linked groups, and are expected to continue for the foreseeable future. On Friday, the U.S. provided "limited technical support" to France in an operation to rescue a French citizen being held by militants, Obama announced days later. Although U.S. combat aircraft entered Somali airspace, they did not fire their weapons. The hostage and at least one French soldier died in the gunfight.
- Yemen: Yemen's new and unstable government is dealing with threats from both the north and the south. The U.S. ambassador to Yemen recently said that Iran was assisting secessionists in the southern part of Yemen in an attempt to destabilize a government that has helped the U.S. combat terrorism. Yemen also sits around the Strait of Hormuz, a key waterway for Iranian trade. Not only is Yemen dealing with separatists in the south, but it is combating al-Qaida and other Islamic militants in the northern part of the country. In the last year, al-Qaida militants have targeted government, military, and security officials throughout Yemen. The U.S. has ramped up its drone attacks in the region and has killed several high-ranking al-Qaida leaders as well.
- Uganda/Central African Republic: To help Ugandan troops in their fight against the Lord's Resistance Army and its leader Joseph Kony, Obama sent 100 U.S. special forces troops to Uganda about a year ago. Although the troops are combat-equipped, they are mainly there to help with surveillance, logistics, and training. Since Kony has fled Uganda, the U.S.-assisted troops have moved into neighboring Central African Republic, which has recently been dealing with its own rebel insurgency. Last week, the C.A.R. government made a deal with rebels to end a conflict that could have disrupted the hunt for Kony.
- Democratic Republic of the Congo: Struggling with both immense poverty and political insecurity for decades, the Democratic Republic of the Congo has been combatting rebel groups in the eastern part of the country, one of which is receiving aid from Rwanda. The U.S. has begun training carefully vetted members of the Congolese military, which has had a reputation for corruption. Instability in such a large nation in the heart of Africa could engulf several surrounding nations. This conflict might not get as much attention, however, as it does not have the threat of spawning international terrorism, as the do the conflicts in Mali and Somalia.