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US increases Africa focus
NAIROBI — While putting few U.S. troops at risk, the United States is playing a growing role in Africa's military battles, using special forces advisers, drones and tens of millions of dollars in military aid to combat a growing and multifaceted security threat.
Once again, the focus is Somalia, the lawless nation that was the site of America's last large-scale military intervention in Africa in the early 1990s. By the time U.S. forces departed, 44 Army soldiers, Marines and airmen had been killed and dozens more wounded.
This time the United States is playing a less visible role, providing intelligence and training to fight militants across the continent, from Mauritania in the west along the Atlantic coast, to Somalia in the east along the Indian Ocean.
The renewed focus on Africa follows a series of recent and dramatic attacks.
In August, a hard-line Islamist group in Nigeria known as Boko Haram bombed the U.N. headquarters in the capital, Abuja, killing 24 people. A year earlier, militants from the Somali group al-Shabab unleashed twin bombings in Kampala, Uganda, that killed 76. And a Nigerian man tried to blow up an airliner over Detroit on Christmas Day 2009 during a flight that originated from Lagos, Nigeria.
Most worrisome to the United States is al-Shabab, an al-Qaida-linked group in Somalia that has recruited dozens of Americans, most of Somali descent.
"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," Gen. Carter Ham, the commander of the U.S. Africa Command, said in Washington this month. "That's mission failure for us."
U.S. and European officials also worry that AQIM an al-Qaida group that operates in the west and north of Africa is working to establish links with Boko Haram and al-Shabab, the Somali.