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On March 11 and 12, the Senate Intelligence Committee and Armed Services Committee held hearings on the biggest threats and security challenges the United States faces. While the hearings included in-depth discussions about Chinese surveillance, the Russia-Ukraine War, the fentanyl epidemic, and Israel’s war in Gaza, there was significantly less focus on the groups that the U.S. continues to bomb as part of the never-ending “War on Terror.”

Witnesses did cite concerns with Iran-backed groups such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis in Yemen and briefly mentioned al-Qaeda. But they were notably silent on ongoing U.S. strikes in Somalia against al-Shabaab.

The hearings raise serious questions over why the U.S. continues to carry out military action against groups like al-Shabaab.

This omission was significant. Prior to Oct. 7, the group had been the biggest target of U.S. military action. Further, according to a report released last September, al-Shabaab was the only non-state group deemed to pose any threat to the U.S. homeland—a threat the executive branch classified as “weak-moderate.” The same report found that al-Qaeda and ISIS posed either a weak or no threat to the U.S. homeland.

In 2023, United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) carried out at least 18 strikes in Somalia. This year, AFRICOM has already conducted at least six strikes there. Yet al-Shabaab was not so much as mentioned in either hearing and only briefly mentioned in this year’s Annual Threat Assessment from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, released on February 4. 

Ultimately, the hearings and threat assessment raise serious questions over why the U.S. continues to carry out military action against groups like al-Shabaab. Why attack groups who pose so little threat that they aren’t even considered worthy of mention in these hearings? Why continue to carry out strikes and escalate conflict when we know that military approaches have proven ineffective time and time again? What coherent, achievable objectives are these strikes accomplishing that justify putting civilians and U.S. military personnel in harm’s way?

The failures of the last 23 years of using war and other militarized approaches to respond to the amorphous threat of terrorism are innumerable. This approach is not only enormously costly and ineffective, but counterproductive and deeply harmful. As Rep. Jason Crow (CO-6) pointed out, our War on Terror operations have actually fueled the spread of the very groups they were seeking to defeat. Meanwhile, researchers at Brown University have determined that this war has taken the lives of almost a million people and that the long-term consequences for the people of countries like Somalia that have borne its brunt are “so vast and complex that they are unquantifiable.”

This military approach is not only enormously costly, but counterproductive and deeply harmful.

It is long past time to bring the War on Terror to an end. To do so, Congress must finally repeal the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) that’s been used as a blank check for war against an ever-expanding list of groups like al-Shabaab.

Turning to non-violent approaches focused on diplomacy, development, and peacebuilding will be a far more effective way to bring about stability and address international threats without keeping the U.S. mired in never-ending, unwinnable, worldwide wars. 

Afreen Minai

Afreen Minai

Program Assistant for Militarism and Human Rights (2023-2024)

Afreen Minai is the program assistant for FCNL’s Militarism and Human Rights program. As program assistant she lobbies to reduce Pentagon spending, reallocate war powers to Congress, and end U.S. militarism abroad.