After the events of September 11th, 2001, the United States became keenly aware of potential security threats in Africa. The threat was not unknown. Al Qaeda leadership had sheltered in Sudan for a period and had been responsible for bombing US embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania and Nairobi, Kenya in 1998. Significant portions of Africa, particularly in the Sahel boundary region between North and Sub-Saharan Africa, were viewed as “ungoverned spaces,” ripe for terrorist infiltration. In the decade following 9/11, with pressure put on Al Qaeda networks in Southwest and Central Asia, a resurgence of terrorist activity was seen in Africa and this prompted increased US responses, largely as part of Operation Enduring Freedom, the global campaign plan to fight Al Qaeda and “associated entities.” To further support the operational effort, the decision was made in 2007 to establish a Geographic Combatant Command to oversee US military operations on the continent. In 2008, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) was stood up, taking over the area of responsibility in Africa previously overseen by US European Command (EUCOM) and US Central Command (CENTCOM), with the exception of Egypt, which remained the responsibility of CENTCOM. In addition, both of these Commands continued to support AFRICOM oprations.
Currently, the main areas of focus are in Northwest Africa and Northeast Africa, but the US conducts operations across the continent. These operations can be broken down broadly into four categories: Counter-Terrorism, Security Cooperation, Intelligence Gathering, and Other. Counter-Terrorism operations involve activity against designated terrorist groups. Security cooperation operations involve support to the development of partner nation security forces and their capabilities, excluding combined exercises, which may have the same objective. Intelligence gathering operations involve missions solely for the purposes of intelligence collection, possibly in support of other operations. Other operations are those not fitting into any of the other three categories, such as peace operations and humanitarian support operations.