An Islamist insurgency terrorizes Somalia. Terrorist organizations named Al Qaida operate on the Arabian Peninsula and the deserts of North Africa.
And with the nation’s military and intelligence resources focused on fighting two wars, the threat posed by Islamic extremism in other parts of the world is rising, U.S. Rep. Adam Smith told The News Tribune on Friday, days after returning from a six-nation trip to Africa and the Middle East.
"It’s a growing problem," the Tacoma Democrat said in a phone interview. "All of our resources are focused on Iraq and Afghanistan. We don’t have the same coverage to track (Al Qaida) operatives on the ground in places like Somalia, Mali, Mauritania, Algeria and Yemen."
Smith, the chairman of the House subcommittee dealing with terrorism, met with diplomatic, military and intelligence officials on the trip, which included four other congressmen. They visited Yemen, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Kenya, Morocco and Burkina Faso.
It was Smith’s first visit to Africa, and the trip brought him near many of the hotspots of the area. In the West African nation of Burkina Faso – an ally of the United States which has hosted American military trainers – Smith was briefed on the activities of Al Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb operating in nearby Algeria. In Kenya, the focus of the visit in part turned to Al Shabab, the Somali insurgency that hopes to establish sharia law in the Horn of Africa. And Yemen has been the site of attacks by Al Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula.
American special operations units have worked with African militaries and police forces across the continent. But Smith that’s not the entire solution.
"They will tell you that they know what they’re doing is mitigating the damage," he said.
Development and a push for good governance can change the atmosphere that fosters extremism. Counterinsurgency theory holds that as economic and political situations improve, there is less incentive to join radical groups.
"That doesn’t mean Al-Qaida will go away," he said. "The ideology is somewhat upper- or middle-class. But the followers, the guys who are willing to strap bombs on themselves and blow things up, those are people who have no hope and no opportunity who come from lawless regions.
"Development is a direct way to block expansion of terrorism."