For more than a decade, Americans have watched terrorism and sectarian violence threaten the stability of the Middle East and our own nation’s security. Yet while our immediate attention is rightly focused on the Middle East, we cannot take our eyes off another region where violent extremists are wreaking havoc: Africa.
Although African extremist groups like Boko Haram and al-Shabab appear primarily focused on their local struggles, they could pose a much more direct threat to our national security and global interests if we underestimate their capacity and aggression. The United States needs focused and sustained engagement if we hope to turn the tide of a growing threat on a continent we too often overlook.
In April, I traveled to Africa to see firsthand how countries are combating terrorism, and most importantly, to understand how the United States can effectively help African governments deal with the real dangers they face. Throughout the trip, I saw both that smart, targeted security investments can make a real difference for countries fighting terrorism and that we need to strengthen the roots of stability — from human rights to democracy to economic development — to fight extremism.
The trip came at a difficult time for many African nations. I visited Tunisia, which was recently rattled by a vicious terrorist attack at an iconic museum; Kenya, which is grieving the loss of 147 students gunned down at a university just weeks ago; and Chad, which is fighting the brutal militants of Boko Haram.