International Politics

, Volume 48, Issue 2–3, pp 364–389 | Cite as

‘War in countries we are not at war with’: The ‘war on terror’ on the periphery from Bush to Obama

  • Maria Ryan
Original Article


This article examines the origins of the ‘Global War on Terror’ (GWoT) in peripheral locations; in other words, in countries and regions beyond Iraq and beyond Afghanistan. Although those two countries have remained the ‘core’ regions of the GWoT, the Bush administration also undertook many other military interventions in countries and regions in ostensibly peripheral locations under the auspices of the ‘war on terror’; operations which it referred to in its 2006 Quadrennial Defense Review as ‘war in countries we are not at war with’. These include operations in the Horn of Africa, Georgia and the Caspian region, the Philippines and the countries across the Sahara region including Mali, Niger, Chad and Mauritania. This article examines these peripheral theatres in the GWoT and argues that, by its second term, the Bush administration had moved beyond a state-based worldview vis-à-vis terrorism and had truly come to understand it as a transnational problem; a protean network that should be tackled through using Special Operations Forces and unconventional warfare to wage ‘war in countries we are not at war with’. The article also considers the extent to which these operations on the ‘periphery’ were expedient in other ways that often transcended the war on terror because they coincided with the existence of long-standing or newly identified US strategic interests. Finally, the article considers the Obama administration's continuation – and in some cases escalation – of many of the Bush administration's operations in peripheral regions, even as Obama looks to wind down the war in Iraq.


Abu Sayyaf Bush Obama Global War on Terror Special Operations Forces Sahara 



My thanks to Adam Quinn for providing excellent comments on the original draft of this article, and to Renato Cruz De Castro for invaluable guidance on the sections on the Philippines.


  1. Abramovici, P. (2004) The United States: The new scramble for Africa. le monde diplomatique, 7 July,, accessed 24 August 2009.
  2. Acharya, A. and Acharya, A. (2007) The myth of the second front: Localizing the ‘War on Terror’ in South East Asia. Washington Quarterly 30 (4),, accessed 1 September 2009.
  3. Archer, T. and Popovic, T. (2007) The Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Initiative: The US War on Terrorism in North Africa, Finnish Institute of International Affairs,, accessed 31 August 2009.
  4. Areshidze, I.G. (2002) Helping Georgia? Perspective XII (4), (March–April 2002), accessed 13 November 2009.
  5. Baldauf, S. (2009) Obama's first Somalia strike hits al Qaeda suspect. Christian Science Monitor, 15 September 2009.Google Scholar
  6. Bello, W. (2002) A second front in the Philippines. The Nation, 18 March,, accessed 15 November 2009.
  7. Bergen, P. and Cruickshank, P. (2007) The Iraq effect: The war in Iraq and its impact on the war on terrorism. Mother Jones, March/April,, accessed 2 October 2009.
  8. Berschinski, R.G. (2007) Africom's Dilemma: The ‘Global War on Terrorism’, ‘Capacity Building’, Humanitarianism, and the future of U.S. Security Policy in Africa. Strategic Studies Institute, United States Army War College, November,, p. 9,accessed 13 November 2009.
  9. Bollee, A. (2003) Djibouti: From French outpost to US base. Review of African Political Economy 30 (97): 481–484.Google Scholar
  10. Brady, T. (2002) Georgia invites United States to chart its own policy., 29 July,, accessed 13 November 2009.
  11. Chen, J. (2008) The list: The world's largest untapped oil fields. Foreign Policy, 19 December.Google Scholar
  12. Choate, M.J. US Army War College Strategy Research Project, (2007) Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Initiative: Balance of Power? March,, accessed 31 August 2009.
  13. Christian Science Monitor. (2009) US behind the scenes of Yemen terrorist fight. 31 December 2009.Google Scholar
  14. Cohen, A. (2002) Moscow, Washington and Tbilisi wrestle with instability in the Pankisi., 19 February,, accessed 1 September 2009.
  15. Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa official website (CJTF–HOA). (2009), accessed 24 August 2009.
  16. Crosston, M. (2006) Fostering Fundamentalism: Terrorism, Democracy and American Engagement in Central Asia. Ashgate, UK: Hants and Burlington.Google Scholar
  17. Dailey, D.L. and Webb, J.G. (2006) US Special Operations Command and the war on terror. Joint Force Quarterly, 40 (January): 44–48.Google Scholar
  18. De Castro, R.C. (2005) Philippine defense policy in the 21st century: Autonomous defense of back to the alliance? Pacific Affairs 78 (3): 403–423.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. De Castro, R.C. (2009) The US-Philippine alliance: An evolving hedge against an emerging China challenge. Contemporary Southeast Asia 31 (3): 399–422.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Department of Defense. (2005) Directive 3000.05: Military Support for Stability, Security, Transition, and Reconstruction (SSTR), 28 November 2005.Google Scholar
  21. de Waal, A. (ed.) (2004a) The politics of destabilization in the horn, 1989–2001. In: Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. 182–230.Google Scholar
  22. de Waal, A. (ed.) (2004b) Introduction. In: Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, pp.1–20.Google Scholar
  23. de Waal, A. (ed.) (2004c) Africa, Islamism and America's war on terror. In: Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. 231–257.Google Scholar
  24. de Waal, A. and Salam, A. (2004) Islamism, state power and Jihad in Sudan. In: de Waal, A. (ed.) Islamism and Its Enemies in the Horn of Africa. Bloomington and Indianapolis, IN: Indiana University Press, pp. 71–113.Google Scholar
  25. Devdariani, J. (2002) Georgian officials prepare to tackle Pankisi Gorge problem., 15 January., accessed 1 September 2009.
  26. Feith, D.J. (2006) War and Decision: Inside the Pentagon at the Dawn of the War on Terrorism. USA: Reagan Books.Google Scholar
  27. Fisher-Thompson, J. (2004) US-African partnership helps counter terrorists in Sahel region., 23 March,, accessed 31 August 2009.
  28. Francia, L.H. (2007) GWoT: The Philippines. The Nation, 31 December., accessed 15 November 2009.
  29. Frazer, J.E. (2006) Assistant Secretary of State for Africa, Statement before the House Committee on International Relations, Subcommittee on International Terrorism and Non-Proliferation, 29 June,, accessed 12 November 2009.
  30. Galbraith, P.W. (2007) The End of Iraq: How American Incompetence Created a War Without End. London: Pocket Books.Google Scholar
  31. Gershman, J. (2002) Is South East Asia the second front? Foreign Affairs 81 (4): 60–74.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Global (2009) Georgia security and stability operations,, accessed 25 August 2009.
  33. Gordon, M. and Trainor, B. (2007) Cobra II: The Inside Story of the Invasion and Occupations of Iraq. London: Atlantic Books.Google Scholar
  34. Guardian. (2002) Pentagon outlines plans to take war on terror to Georgia. 28 February.Google Scholar
  35. Guardian. (2008) George Bush's secret order to send special forces into Pakistan. 12 September.Google Scholar
  36. Henry L. Stimson Center. (2005) Peace Operations Factsheet Series, February 2005. U.S. support to African capacity for peace operations: The ACOTA program,, accessed 31 August 2009.
  37. Information Operations Roadmap. (2003) 30 October 2003,∼nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB177/info_ops_roadmap.pdf, accessed 31 August 2009.
  38. International Herald Tribune. (2009) US admits that security failed in plot on jet bomb. 29 December.Google Scholar
  39. International Herald Tribune. (2010a) Embassies in Yemen close over Qaeda threat. 4 January.Google Scholar
  40. International Herald Tribune. (2010b) With Yemen in turmoil, Al Qaeda gains. 4 January.Google Scholar
  41. Jones, J.L. (2005) USMC, Commander of the United States European Command, Before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 28 September,, accessed 11 November 2009.
  42. Keenan, J. (2009) The Dark Sahara: America's War on Terror in Africa. London/New York: Pluto Press.Google Scholar
  43. Kibbe, J.D. (2004) The rise of the shadow warriors. Foreign Affairs (March/April): 102–115.Google Scholar
  44. Klare, M. (2005) Imperial reach. The Nation, 25 April.Google Scholar
  45. Klare, M. (2008) Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: How Scarce Energy Is Creating a New World Order. Oxford, UK: Oneworld.Google Scholar
  46. Klein, N. (2003) Mutiny in Manila. The Nation, 1 September,, accessed 15 November 2009.
  47. Kucera, J. (2009) Terrorist threat on rise in Ferghana Valley – State Department. EurasiaNet, 8 May,, accessed 16 November 2009.
  48. Lyman, P.N. and Morrison, J.S. (2004) The terrorist threat in Africa. Foreign Affairs 83 (1): 75–86.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. McConnell, T. (2009) Hillary Clinton pledges US support to Somali government. The Times, 7 August.Google Scholar
  50. Montesano, M.J. (2003) The Philippines in 2002: Playing politics, facing deficits and embracing Uncle Sam. Asian Survey 43 (1): 162.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Montesano, M.J. (2004) The Philippines in 2003: Troubles, none of them new. Asian Survey 44 (1): 93–101.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. National Defense Strategy of the United States of America. (NDS) (2005)
  53. National Energy Policy, Report of the National Energy Policy Development Group. (2001), accessed 31 August 2009.
  54. National Intelligence Council. (2000) Global Trends 2015,, accessed 31 August 2009.
  55. National Strategy for Maritime Security. (2005) Document available at, accessed 19 October 2009.
  56. New York Times. (2009a) Mr Obama and the rule of law. Editorial, 21 March.Google Scholar
  57. New York Times. (2009b) CIA to expand use of drones in Pakistan. 3 December.Google Scholar
  58. New York Times. (2009c) U.S. unit secretly in Pakistan lends ally support. 22 February.Google Scholar
  59. Nichol, J. (2007) Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia: Political developments and implications for US interests. CRS Report for Congress, 31 July,
  60. Nichol, J. (2008) Armenia, Azerbaijan and Georgia: Political developments and implications for US interests, Congressional Research Service, 13 August,, accessed 13 November 2009.
  61. Nye Jr, J.S. (2004) Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics. New York: Public Affairs, pp. 1–32.Google Scholar
  62. Olimova, S. and Olimov, M. (2001) The Islamic Renaissance Party,, accessed 13 November 2009.
  63. Olsen, E.T. (2008) Statement of Admiral Eric T. Olsen, United States Special Operations Command, before the Senate Armed Services Committee on the Posture of Special Operations Forces. 4 March 2008,, accessed 5 March 2010.
  64. Ploch, L. (2009) Africa Command: US strategic interests and the role of the US military in Africa, Congressional Research Service. 2 October,, accessed 5 March 2010.
  65. QDR. (2006) The United States Quadrennial Defense Review Report. 6 February 2006., accessed 4 March 2010.
  66. Quigley, S.L. (2006) European command transforming to accommodate new challenges. American Forces Press Service, 9 March., accessed 15 November 2009.
  67. Quinn-Judge, P. (2002) Jihad Comes To Georgia. Time, 15 February,,8816,203349,00.html, accessed 13 November 2009.
  68. Radics, G.B. (2004) Terrorism in South East Asia: Balikatan exercises in the Philippines and the US ‘War against Terrorism’. Stanford Journal of East Asian Affairs 4 (2): 115–127.Google Scholar
  69. Reid, B. (2006) Bush and the Philippines after September 11: Hegemony, mutual opportunism, and democratic retreat. In: M. Beeson (ed.) Bush and Asia: America's Evolving Relations with East Asia. Oxon and New York: Routledge, pp. 145–161.Google Scholar
  70. Ritchie, N. and Rogers, P. (2007) The Political Road to the War with Iraq: Bush, 9/11 and the Drive to Overthrow Saddam. London and New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  71. Roberts, J. (2002) Plans for Iraq attack began on 9/11., 4 September., accessed 19 August 2009.
  72. Rogers, S. (2004) Beyond the Abu Sayyaf. Foreign Affairs 83 (1): 15–20.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Rollins, J. (2010) Al Qaeda and affiliates: Historical perspective, global presence, and implications for US policy. Congressional Research Service, 5 February., accessed 5 March 2010.
  74. Rotberg, R.I. (ed.) (2005) Battling Terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Cambridge, MA/Washington, DC: World Peace Foundation/Brookings Institution Press.Google Scholar
  75. Rumsfeld, D. (2003) Speech 27 May 2003, New York,, accessed 19 August 2009.
  76. Schermerhorn, L. (2005) Djibouti: A special role in the war on terrorism. In: Rotberg, R.I. (ed.) Battling Terrorism in the Horn of Africa. Cambridge, MA/Washington, DC: World Peace Foundation/Brookings Institution Press, pp. 48–63.Google Scholar
  77. Schmitt, E. (2003) Pentagon seeking new access pacts for Africa bases. New York Times, 5 July.Google Scholar
  78. Shanker, T. and Shane, S. (2006) Elite troops get expanded role on intelligence. New York Times, 8 March.Google Scholar
  79. Shapiro, I. (2007) Containment: Rebuilding a Strategy Against Global Terror. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press.Google Scholar
  80. Smith, T. (2007) A Pact with the Devil: Washington's Bid for World Supremacy and the Betrayal of the American Promise. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  81. Soufan, A.H. (2010) A lost victory in the terror war. International Herald Tribune, 4 January.Google Scholar
  82. Special Operations Command. (2006) Capstone Concept for Special Operations,, accessed 19 August 2009.
  83. Special Operations Command. (2007a) History: 1987–2007,, accessed 31 August 2009.
  84. Special Operations Command. (2007b) Posture Statement,, accessed 19 August 2009.
  85. The Observer. (2002) Oil fuels US army role in Georgia. 12 May.Google Scholar
  86. The Observer. (2009) US now trains more drone operators than pilots. 23 August.Google Scholar
  87. The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership: Program Overview,, accessed 18 February 2011.
  88. Tyson, A.S. (2007) Sorry Charlie. This is Michael Vickers's war. Washington Post, 28 December.Google Scholar
  89. Volman, D. (2003) The Bush administration and African oil: The security implications of U.S. energy policy. Review of African Political Economy 30 (98): 573–584.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  90. Volman, D. (2008) US to create new military command for Africa. Association of Concerned Africa Scholars, 8 July,, accessed 24 August 2009.
  91. Volman, D. (2008) Why is America marching Into Africa? Association of Concerned Africa Scholars, 8 July,, accessed 31 August 2009.
  92. Volpi, F. (2003) Islam and Democracy: The Failure of Dialogue in Algeria, 1988–2001. London: Pluto Books.Google Scholar
  93. Wall Street Journal. (2009) U.S. forces sent to train Pakistanis. 16 May.Google Scholar
  94. Washington Post. (2002) ‘Helping Georgia?’ US begins anti-terror assistance in Georgia 27 February.Google Scholar
  95. Washington Post. (2003) Why are we in Jolo? Editorial, 22 February.Google Scholar
  96. Washington Post. (2005a) Covert CIA program withstands new furor. 30 December.Google Scholar
  97. Washington Post. (2005b) Pentagon funds diplomacy effort. 11 June.Google Scholar
  98. Washington Post. (2005c) US Pushes Anti-Terrorism in Africa. 26 July.Google Scholar
  99. Washington Post. (2007) US strike in Somalia Targets Al Qaeda figure. 9 January.Google Scholar
  100. Washington Post. (2010a) US military teams, intelligence, deeply involved in aiding Yemen on strikes. 27 January.Google Scholar
  101. Washington Post. (2010b) US was more focused on al-Qaeda's plans abroad than for homeland, report on airline bomb plot finds. 8 January.Google Scholar
  102. Woodward, P. (2003) The Horn of Africa: Politics and International Relations. London and New York: I.B. Tauris.Google Scholar
  103. Zoubir, Y.H. (2009) The United States and Maghreb-Sahel security. International Affairs 85 5(2009): 977–995.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Palgrave Macmillan, a division of Macmillan Publishers Ltd 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Maria Ryan
    • 1
  1. 1.School of American and Canadian Studies, Faculty of Arts, University of NottinghamNottinghamUK

Personalised recommendations