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The Islamist Move Toward East Africa
On of the most important parts of the growth of al Qaeda related groups or other armed and like-minded organizations, is the transfer of knowledge and technologies. It is something at which al Qaeda has excelled, both in the transfer of "lessons learned" in fighting U.S. and European troops, and in adapting and sharing what works. This is true with the IEDs, suicide bombing technology and other areas.

So the Associated Press story on the move to transfer technology from the Pakistani border regions to Africa is worrisome, particularly given the ties that already exist with the al Shaab movements and al Qaeda's infrastructure in Kenya, Tanzania and South Africa.

Africom, struggling to find a home and a mission that is viable in the region, is handicapped by a severe lack of intelligence resources on the ground.

The cluster of militants now believed to be operating inside East Africa could pass on sophisticated training and attack techniques gleaned from seven years at war against the U.S. and allies in Iraq and Afghanistan, U.S. officials said.

"There is a level of activity that is troubling, disturbing," Gen. William "Kip" Ward, head of U.S. Africa Command, told The Associated Press. "When you have these vast spaces that are just not governed it provides a haven for support activities, for training to occur."

I personally don't like the use of ungoverned spaces as a definition of areas where the state is not present. Almost all of those spaces are, in fact governed, just not by state actors that we recognize. But the pirate clans certainly govern some parts of the Somali coast, al Shaabab other parts, and the fragile government a few others.

But the point is correct. The groups need safe spaces in which to train, teach and practice. Those with years of experience in Afghanistan know not only certain types of technology, but how US forces operate, what the vulnerabilities are and what the strengths are. They know security arrangements for high-value targets, and they know how to penetrate many of those perimeters.

This is invaluable knowledge for future confrontations, and the expectation they will be meeting US troops and other foreign, infidel forces along the way. It also helps transmit the most lethal and successful tactics in an area like Somalia where internet access is far more limited than much of the rest of the world.

So the training is valuable and likely will improve the operational capabilities of the different militant groups in Somalia and elsewhere in East Africa. Already, as the story notes, there are signs of increasing sophistication, particularly in the use of simultaneous suicide bombings, one of the al Qaeda signature methodologies.

It is likely also a highly valuable motivational tool. There is no disputing the Taliban in Pakistan, and the Taliban and its Arab fighter allies in Afghanistan have made significant strides.

In the narrative of their struggle (largely a cosmic struggle between good and evil played out on earth), such advances are vital to validating the central thesis that Allah is on the move and success will be his through his jihadists on earth.

This affords an opportunity not only to add to the narrative, but to shape the theology of a group where many members have shallower theological roots than the Afghan fighters.

This is fundamental in the long-term motivation and retention of the fighters, many who join initially for economic reasons rather than religious belief. The challenge is keeping them engaged in cosmic war for ends other than material gain, and narrative is the way to maximize that potential.

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