The Boyertown Area Times

War on terror quietly continues

- By Daniel DePetris Daniel DePetris is a fellow at Defense Priorities and a foreign affairs columnist for the Chicago Tribune.

At a time when the Biden administra­tion has its hands full trying to reverse Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and manage a U.S.-China relationsh­ip stuck in the doldrums, America’s vast, lethal counterter­rorism machine continues to be in high gear.

The U.S. intelligen­ce community and America’s special operators are tracking and hunting down terrorists in several countries — Syria and Somalia, most especially — with such regularity that it barely makes a dent in the news cycle anymore.

You can be forgiven for thinking the decadeslon­g war on terrorism was declared officially over the moment the Biden administra­tion withdrew U.S. troops from Afghanista­n in August 2021. Yet it’s clear that the war on terrorism is still very much alive — quietly and discreetly.

Roughly 2,500 U.S. troops remain deployed in Iraq. Almost 1,000 remain stationed in eastern Syria, where they occupy a series of small bases that are frequently harassed by Iranian-backed militias. Almost 500 U.S. forces are in Somalia, which has been in a state of continuous civil war since the early 1990s.

According to U.S. Central Command, there have been 119 operations in Iraq alone so far this year. A significan­t amount of U.S. military activity is occurring in Syria as well — and unlike in Iraq, U.S. forces there often operate unilateral­ly.

Some of the more noteworthy operations include: a Jan. 18 helicopter raid in northeast Syria targeting an Islamic State facilitato­r; a Feb. 17 helicopter raid that killed Hamza al-Homsi, a senior Islamic State leader (four U.S. military members were wounded); an April 4 drone strike against another Islamic State leader in Syria; an April 8 operation that captured Islamic State attack facilitato­r Hudayfah al Yemeni; and a May drone strike that neutralize­d a senior al-Qaida leader.

The U.S. has been quite active in Somalia, too, mainly through the air. In Somalia, authoritie­s are largely propped up by an African Union peacekeepi­ng mission. Al-Shabaab, the alQaida affiliate, controls much of central and southern Somalia, where the government’s overworked counterter­rorism unit (backed by the U.S.) seeks to kill or capture the group’s leadership and retake ground.

The U.S. isn’t so much fighting a counterter­rorism battle in Somalia as much as a counterins­urgency campaign, aiding and abetting the Somali government’s war against an extremist insurgency.

In Syria, the U.S. tends to focus on individual­s. In Somalia, however, the U.S. targets entire groups of insurgents who try to overrun military bases or checkpoint­s. The aim isn’t to capture or kill terrorists threatenin­g the U.S. but rather to support the Somali government as it tries to defeat, or at least hold off, a 17-year insurgency that shows no signs of losing steam. Most U.S. military operations in Somalia are close-air support missions directly assisting Somali

forces on the ground. The result often involves higher casualty rates for the opposing forces.

In January, the U.S. struck a large al-Shabaab formation that was trying to capture a Somali army base about 160 miles from Mogadishu, killing 30. On Feb. 10, the U.S. conducted a similar strike against yet another column of al-Shabaab fighters to assist the Somali army’s ground campaign, wiping out 12 insurgents in the process. Several days later, yet another U.S. air attack in support of the Somali government killed five insurgents. Based on news releases from U.S. Africa Command, the most recent U.S. strike in the country occurred in March.

The point here is not to regurgitat­e each and every U.S. military operation that happens halfway around the world. There are too many to count, and after a while, all the strikes start to look similar.

The point, rather, is to underscore that the U.S. is still very much a country at war, notwithsta­nding what U.S. political leaders claim in speeches. The convention­al view that the U.S. has moved on from the terrorism and counterins­urgency wars of the past to focus on a renewed era of great power competitio­n is simply inaccurate. The reality is the U.S. is trying to do it all.

It’s no wonder why the U.S. defense budget is mindlessly approachin­g the trillion-dollar mark.

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