Date of Graduation

Spring 2014


Master of Science in Defense and Strategic Studies


Defense and Strategic Studies

Committee Chair

Ilan Berman


The Obama administration has publicized counterterrorism victories in Mali and Somalia, declaring al-Qaeda (AQ) to be "on the path to defeat.” Recent terrorist attacks in Africa like the Westgate Mall attack in Kenya indicate a reality contrary to that narrative. This paper draws from three case studies to determine the validity of the current administration's assertions, utilizing the 2010 National Security Strategy and 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism as guides, the focus of which is to deny terrorist safe havens in Africa. The three case studies include; al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Mali, al-Shabaab (MYM) in Somalia, and Boko Haram (BH) in Nigeria. The apparent defeat of AQIM in Mali pushed the Islamists into adjacent territory without disrupting the group's capability to conduct attacks or cutting off its sources of funding. Similarly, al-Shabaab in Somalia has been pushed into rural areas, but is prepared to retake lost territory in the event African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) withdraws. The Nigerian government's harsh tactics to combat Boko Haram may be serving as a recruiting tool for the emerging terrorist group. Recent counterterrorism successes in Africa have been primarily strategic and operational in nature, but will ultimately fail to achieve long-term strategic victory if no adjustments are made. This thesis identifies areas of opportunity to refocus strategy in order to produce long-term success. Concentrating on targeting and killing leaders has been an ineffective strategy in Africa; instead, an emphasis on combating Islamist ideology as a means to separate Islamists from a base of support in the local population could offer more success.


U.S. counterterrorism policy, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Africa

Subject Categories

Defense and Security Studies


© Elijah Seth Harkema

Campus Only