America’s war against al-Shabaab is one of the longest-running conflicts in U.S. history, simmering quietly for a dozen years in the desert landscape of the Horn of Africa. It has proven a frustrating mission with wins but no victory, setbacks but no defeat.
Its limitations were apparent just this week, when al-Shabaab claimed responsibility for an 18-hour siege that left at least 21 victims—including one American—and five attackers dead at a hotel-and-office complex in Nairobi, Kenya.
Somalia is one in a series of American wars unleashed by the Sept. 11 attacks, from Afghanistan and Syria to Niger and Yemen. On any given day, across a swath of Africa, South Asia and the Middle East, hundreds of U.S. troops might find themselves dropping bombs on or exchanging gunfire with any number of armed Islamist organizations—al-Shabaab, Islamic State, the Taliban, the Haqqani network and al Qaeda’s branches in the Maghreb or the Arabian Peninsula.
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