Obama, Bush mark bombings in Tanzania, as Africa’s strategic important increases

from The Washington Post..

By  and 

July 1, 2013

DAR es SALAAM, Tanzania — Two U.S. presidents will come together here Tuesday to lay a wreath at the American embassy during a solemn ceremony that will commemorate a terrorist bombing 15 years ago — and a serve as a stark reminder of present-day security concerns in Africa.

Neither Barack Obama nor George W. Bush had come to power at the time of the attack, but the simultaneous destruction of the U.S. diplomatic headquarters by coordinated truck bombs in Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya, on Aug. 7, 1998, would have direct effects on their tenures in the White House. The attacks, which killed hundreds, brought Osama bin Laden to wider public attention and signaled a new level of sophistication in the radical Islamist movements that pose a terrorist threat across the globe.

As President Obama wraps up a week-long Africa trip, the embassy ceremony will highlight how significant Sub-Saharan Africa has become to the administration’s efforts to fight back. Under Obama, military and security engagement with Africa has expanded significantly, with the rapid growth of military personnel on the continent.

AFRICOM, the U.S. command, has grown to 2,000 staff assigned to Africa since its founding in 2007, under Bush, and up to 5,000 troops are on the continent at any given time conducting various missions.

The ramping up of counterterrorism operations, accelerated under Obama, remains small compared to U.S. military engagement in other parts of the world. But many Africans have faulted the Obama administration for viewing the continent largely through the prism of national security, even as the president has tried this week to turn attention to trade, development and democracy building.

“It’s really true that AFRICOM has been a key partner to a number of African countries,” said Ben Rhodes, Obama’s deputy national security adviser. But, he said, “the focus of AFRICOM has been on building African capacity, not on bringing U.S.-based military solutions to African problems.”

During Bush’s presidency, bin Laden’s success in helping to plan the 1998 bombings emboldened him to carry out the 9/11 attacks, leading Bush into the Iraq and Afghanistan wars and a worldwide war on terror. The threats posed by al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Africa have continued to increase during Obama’s tenure, as the U.S. military winds down its presence in Afghanistan and ended combat operations in Iraq.

The continent is marked by weak governments, large ungoverned spaces, and crippling poverty, ingredients that have encouraged Islamist extremism to spread.

In 2009, Obama’s first year in office, the primary concern was Somalia’s al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabab militia. Today, the list of extremist groups include al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, the terror network’s West and North Africa branch, and Nigeria’s Boko Haram Islamist militia, as well as smaller extremist factions.

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