May 22, 2023
US Embassies Should Not Cede Space to Terrorists
After the United States suspended embassy operations and evacuated its personnel from Sudan, it’s important to recognize that conflict and terrorists have always threatened U.S. diplomatic posts. Al Qaeda bombed the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya, simultaneously in 1998. More recently, an al Qaeda threat from Yemen resulted in the temporary closure of over 20 diplomatic facilities in 2013. Yet many Americans may not realize that even as they have become safer at home because transnational terror threats are low, the threat from Salafi-jihadi groups to U.S. personnel abroad has increased.
The U.S. reaction has been to pull back from areas where al Qaeda and self-styled Islamic State militant groups are active to reduce risk to personnel. But this response only harms long-term U.S. interests and enables the spread of the Salafi-jihadi movement.
Salafi-jihadi terrorism threats have affected the U.S. diplomatic posture over the past 10 years. Threats in 2012 and 2013 temporarily halted U.S. diplomatic activity. Today, threats are having a more lasting impact. Embassies increasingly have reduced staff and imposed no-go zones. A timeline of such events shows a rise in disruptions to regular embassy operations. Security restrictions peaked in 2022 with 18 restrictions on U.S. personnel, representing a third of total restrictions since 2013.