The US is involved in 15 ‘shadow wars’: Here’s where and why
The ever-expanding American military footprint covers nearly every continent. While the United States has long had a military presence in other nations, the scope significantly expanded following the passage of the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force — which, in the wake of 9/11, permitted the support of foreign forces against various terrorist groups. The U.S. has since had 173,000 troops deployed in 159 countries as of 2020 and currently maintains at least 750 foreign military bases across 80 countries, according to the Conflict Management and Peace Science journal.
As the top military power in the world, according to the Global Firepower index, the U.S. has a vested interest in the national security of countries across the globe. In situations that do not warrant combative military intervention or would threaten relations with allies, the government may oversee or aid more minor disputes within countries, such as counterterrorism efforts. This type of involvement is known as a “shadow war,” a somewhat covert military operation conducted on behalf of a smaller power.
Stacker compiled a list of 15 “shadow wars” the U.S. is currently involved in and how those conflicts began, using various news, government and investigative sources.
The U.S. has supported the Yemen government against terrorist organizations — including the Islamic State, or ISIS and al-Qaeda — since the country’s civil war began in 2014. According to the World Bank, this civil war has prompted one of the worst humanitarian crises in the world. In February 2023, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken announced $444 million in humanitarian aid to the region, bringing the United States’ total assistance to $5.4 billion.
The U.S. has provided military assistance to Ukraine since Russia invaded the country in February 2022. However, such support has been strategically targeted to avoid further escalating tensions with Russia. For example, the White House is reportedly reluctant to send advanced equipment to Ukraine, such as fighter jets that could instigate deadlier conflict. Since January 2021, the U.S. has provided Ukraine with $42 billion in security assistance for equipment such as aircraft systems, ammunition and more.
Since 2014, the U.S. has engaged in efforts to destabilize terrorist groups in Syria, including deploying nearly 900 U.S. troops. American support of the region began with the pro-democracy protests of the Arab Spring of 2011. During that time, the Syrian government’s destabilization led to a civil war. To this day, the U.S. continues providing military intelligence, surveillance, and air support.
Cameroon is one of 11 African nations with which the U.S. is engaged in military activity under Operation Juniper Shield, a military operation supporting the Global War on Terror. The campaign targets terrorist organizations Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa. The U.S. has provided Cameroon with nearly $67 million in support of counterterrorist missions, including intelligence and reconnaissance, and $10 million to bolster its national security.
The Iraq War officially ended in December 2011, but U.S. troops returned to the region in 2014 to support counterterrorism operations. Military support aims to prevent and suppress the resurgence of ISIS in the area. Approximately 2,500 American troops remain in the region as of March 2023, providing instruction and assistance to Iraqi troops.
The U.S. has maintained a military presence in Egypt since 1978 to enforce the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. The U.S. has provided more than $50 billion in military aid to the country. American troops have recently taken a more active role in the nation’s national security by partnering with the Egyptian military in Enigma Hunter, a counterterrorist effort targeting ISIS.
The U.S. maintains a military task force in Kenya in opposition to threats posed by the terrorist organization al-Shabaab. In 2020, the group launched an attack on a Kenyan military base in Manda Bay, where American troops were providing training, resulting in the deaths of an American soldier and two contractors. As of 2021, the Department of Defense funds $69 million in regional projects aimed toward counterterrorism measures.
American and Lebanese militaries have joined forces in opposition to Lebanon-based terrorist organizations, including ISIS, Hezbollah, Hamas and the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps. Since 2012, the U.S. has provided the region with $2 billion in humanitarian aid, including $72 million specifically to increase the wages of the Lebanese Army and police forces.
American forces have been engaged in several military operations in Libya since the 2012 Benghazi attack, which resulted in the deaths of a U.S. ambassador and two CIA contractors, instigating a campaign geared toward improving the safety of American diplomats. The U.S. has launched drone strikes against the region’s terrorist groups since 2020.
Mali is another of the 11 African countries with which the U.S. has engaged in Operation Juniper Shield. To combat terrorist organizations in the region — including al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, and Boko Haram — the U.S. provides training and equipment to Mali military groups. The country is also the site of Operation Objective Voice, an anti-propaganda information campaign.
Mauritania is another African country within the scope of the counterterrorism campaign Operation Juniper Shield. The country is also site to a base partially involved in the anti-propaganda campaign Operation Objective Voice. Additionally, during an annual event known as Exercise Flintlock, the U.S. provides the country with military training support in partnership with Canada and some European countries.
The U.S. provides counterterrorism support in numerous military campaigns currently operating within Niger, including Juniper Shield, Jukebox Lotus and Objective Voice. The U.S. officially opened Niger Air Base 201 in 2019, serving as a base for American troops to operate drones and some small aircraft for military missions. The airfield cost approximately $110 million to construct.
The U.S. government maintains a steady military presence in Nigeria, supporting Operation Juniper Shield and Operation Objective Voice. The African nation has long been a military ally of the U.S., and in 2022, the White House approved the controversial selling of $1 billion in arms to the country. American support of the country dates back nearly two decades. Since 2000, the U.S. has provided over 41,000 training courses to Nigerian military personnel.
Over the past decade, the U.S. government has provided $3 billion to Somalia in the fight against terrorist groups al-Shabaab and ISIS. Aid given thus far also includes combat raids and military training and equipment. Under the Trump administration American troops withdrew from Somalia, leading al-Shabaab to regain its grip on the region. However, the group’s presence waned amid the return of U.S. troops under the Biden administration.
Though American troops withdrew from Afghanistan in February 2020, the CIA remains involved in the region. Specifically, the agency is monitoring developments concerning the Taliban’s takeover of the area at sites located in Pakistan. Additionally, some American troops remain on guard at the U.S. embassy in Kabul.
Written by Colleen Kilday, story editing by Brian Budzynski, copy editing by Paris Close, photo selection by Clarese Moller.
This article was copy edited from its original version.