In the last segment of my Foreign Policy advice for Trump series, I talked about the steps the Trump Administration should take in the Middle East and covered a wide range of topics ranging from ISIS to the Iran deal. In this segment, I will cover the approach Donald Trump's Administration should take in the North African Region, particularly Egypt and Libya, as well as Somalia. Both Somalia and Libya are the center of civil wars that are plaguing each nation and have become a hotbed for Islamic Terrorism. Egypt, on the other hand is now run by a quasi-military dictatorship after the Muslim Brotherhood briefly took over the country and is still faced with an Islamist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. Approaching the problems of all three of these nations to ensure stability in the region is pivotal to the United States and the Trump Administration must be vigilant if they wish to do so.
The 2013 coup d'etat of Muslim Brotherhood affiliated President Mohammed Morsi by the Egyptian military was a blessing for those who were concerned that Egypt would devolve into an Islamist theocracy. It was headed in that direction, as Morsi had issued a constitutional declaration that gave him unlimited powers and the power to legislate without judicial oversight. After millions of people protested in the streets against this power grab, the military stepped in and took over the government. The following year, in the Presidential election, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the then-Defense Minister ran and won the presidency. He had de-facto been in power since the coup, while another individual, Adly Mansour was interim President. Upon officially becoming leader of the country, Sisi then pursued a crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood and its affiliates, jailed its leaders, and labeled the organization as a terrorist group. This may have resulted in Egypt becoming a quasi-military dictatorship, but the alternative was the nation being dominated by the pro-Hamas, Islamist organization whose sole goal is to create a Pan-Islamic state across the Middle East dominated by Sharia. This would not have been a positive turn of events for the region. However, the Obama Administration did not see it this way, as the President himself has shown favoritism towards the Muslim Brotherhood in the past. The President openly denounced the coup as an attack on a democratically elected leader, even though that leader was undermining the legal institutions of that nation. Obama suspended the bi-annual Operation Bright Star military exercises after the coup. This was a clear sign to the Sisi Government that Obama was not in favor of working with him, but with the preceding government. Despite the fact that Sisi has jailed members of the Muslim Brotherhood as well as journalists, the former general has brought order and prevented Islamists from dominating the nation. He has also done a complete 180 degree turn on relations with Israel from Morsi. While Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were hostile towards Israel and pro-Hamas, Sisi has warmed relations with Israel and even cooperated with Israel against Hamas during Operation Protective Edge.
Now that Trump will be taking office, this is an opportunity to better relations with the Sisi government and cooperate with them on combating terrorism and Islamism. Trump should continue the Bright Star Exercises that Obama stopped. He should also try to encourage the Egyptian and Israeli Governments to cooperate even further than they have been. Both nations are opposed to Hamas and its Iz ad-Din al-Qassan Brigades, as they bring nothing but more instability and violence to the neighboring counties, as jihadists in Egypt have been using the Gaza Strip as a safe haven with Hamas protection. Further cooperation with Israel is possible with the Sisi Government. In addition to all of these actions, the US should try to assist the Egyptian Military in a limited capacity with its fight against ISIS affiliated militants in the Sinai Peninsula. This type of assistance should be limited to intelligence sharing and possibly advisory roles by our military personnel, but nothing beyond that. The Egyptian military is fully capable of handling the insurgency on its own, as the jihadist fighters are limited in number and fighting capacity and their areas of operation are limited to the barren outskirts of the Sinai Peninsula. Our limited support would simply be a sign of solidarity towards the Egyptians to show them that the new US Administration is not hostile, but supportive of their efforts to combat Islamic terrorists.
The overthrow of Moammar Gaddafi by the NATO backed “National Transitional Council” was another foreign policy blunder that is on par with the Iraq War. Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, along with then-British PM David Cameron and then-French President Nicholas Sarkozy launched an air campaign to bomb Libyan military targets because they were killing protesters. These protesters eventually became the National Liberation Army, but just like in Syria, were filled with jihadists amongst its ranks. Obama and Clinton, seeming to have not cared about this supplied them anyway. No foreign superpower backed or supported Gaddafi during the war, so his Government fell within 8 months of the war beginning. The aftermath led to a weak central government which has fallen apart and the nation has since devolved into warring factions.
As of now the nation is currently controlled by two major factions. About ¾ of the country is controlled by the former Council of Deputies which is based in the eastern city of Tobruk, and the Libya Dawn Coalition, who ousted the Council of Deputies from Tripoli. The latter group controls Tripoli and the northwest quarter of the country. The Libya Dawn Coalition is composed of Muslim Brotherhood affiliates and armed by Turkey and Qatar. A failed UN backed Government called the “Government of National Accord” came to power in Tripoli with the approval of the Libyan Dawn led government this January, but was overthrown by the Islamists last month.
The aforementioned Council of Deputies Government is led by a former Gaddafi-era General named Khalifa Haftar. General Haftar was one of the military officers that helped Gaddafi overthrow King Idriss of Libya back in 1969. In 1987, During Libya's war with Chad, he was captured and was eventually freed in a deal by the US. Gaddafi, having previously denied the presence of Libyan troops in Chad, disowned him. He was later released by the Chadian Government in a US-sponsored deal. Upon being released, he relocated to the US and even acquired US citizenship. From the US, Khalifa plotted his revenge on Gaddafi and returned to Libya in 2011 to take part in the revolution against his former leader.
Khalifa Haftar, being very secular, is taking the fight to the remaining ISIS elements in Libya and the Libyan Dawn Coalition. The Trump Administration needs to back Khaftar's military forces so that he can eventually take power in Libya. This wouldn't require ground troops, but air support and intelligence sharing. Egypt and the United Arab Emirates are already supporting Khaftar militarily, while Qatar and our “ally” Turkey is backing the Libyan Dawn coalition. A military coalition between the US, Egypt, the UAE and Haftar's forces would not only strengthen relations between the three nations, but give General Haftar a fighting chance to take control of the country.
President Obama has been reluctant to get involved in this civil war, with the exception of bombing ISIS positions in the city of Sirte. However, since ISIS' presence in the country has been severely depleted as of late, the Obama Administration is doing very little to support the Khaftar-led faction. The Trump Administration must attempt to fix the power vacuum that was created by the NATO-led intervention. General Haftar has command of the Libyan National Army, and the Council of Deputies has named him commander of the entire Armed Forces. It is entirely possible for Haftar to reassert control over Libya. He most likely would then become its next leader. It will not be easy to oust the Libyan Dawn faction or other Islamists that plague the country, but it is possible to bring the much needed stability back to Libya.
Perhaps the most difficult situations of all these three countries is that of Somalia. With the toppling of the Marxist Dictator Ahmed Siad Barre in 1991, Somalia has been in a perpetual state of civil war. The US has been involved minimally throughout the years, with the 1993 Operation Gothic Serpent, which was part of the greater UN Operation Restore Hope. Gothic Serpent's Goal was to eliminate the warlord Mohammed Farrah Aidid, who was impeding UN relief efforts. The ensuing Battle of Mogadishu occurred with no gains and US 18 deaths. Following this failed mission, President Clinton ended the mission and pulled out our troops.
Fast forward to 2016 and the current situation is just as dire. An al-Qaeda affiliated jihadist group by the name of Al-Shabbab has plagued the nation with terrorism since 2006, when it splintered from an Islamist group by the name of the Islamic Courts Union. Al-Shabbab controlled nearly the entire southern half of Somalia, until a Kenyan-led African Union Mission managed to seize most of the land back from the terror group. Many of its leaders, have been killed by US drone strikes, weakening its strength in the nation. As of 2016, Al-Shabbab has been severely depleted and numbers at about 7,000 to 9,000 fighters. It now only controls several small rural areas in the nation, but still frequently carries attacks in the country and region, including the Westgate Shopping mall attack that killed 67 and wounded 175 and the Garissa University attack that killed 148 and injured 79. Both of these huge attacks occurred in neighboring Kenya, who is leading the fight against Al-Shabbab with the support of the weak central Government of Somalia.
While Al-Shabbab isn't as powerful as it was a few years ago, it still clearly remains a security threat to the region. The Trump Administration must continue drone strikes on its leadership and assist the Somali Government and the African Union nations in combat against Al-Shabbab through intelligence sharing and military advisement. The Trump Administration should place more focus on the aftermath of the war. Somalia needs stability and unfortunately it has not of it. The northwestern breakaway state of Somaliland, which has been self-governing since 1991, is a lost cause and should be allowed to govern itself. This will end another issue to the already dire situation. Additionally, the other states, which haven't declared independence, but autonomy should be allowed to continue that autonomy for the time being. Having a federal system in Somalia due to its diverse demographics would ease tensions among the various ethnic groups. In order to have this stability however, the nation needs a strong central government and strong leadership. Finding a strongman to have in charge of the nation, but allowing a federal system to be in place would be ideal, but Somalia has been a failed state for 25 years and I fear it may be for another 25 if a solution to stabilize the country isn't agreed upon.
The North Africa region and Somalia is just as volatile of a region as the Middle East. It is plagued with Islamic terrorism and dysfunctional governments. It is another set of problems that the Trump Administration will have to inherit and one that will not likely be solved even if he is re-elected and puts forth the actions that I have stated in this article. The problems of the Islamic world are vast and would require three or four like minded administrations in succession to carry out the goals stated in this article and my previous one regarding the Middle East. Donald Trump and his administration must not make the types of mistakes that the Bush and Obama Administrations have made in this region, but learn from them. They must tread carefully and brush up on their knowledge of tribal and ethno-religious divides that are the driving factors behind these conflicts.