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Waging Peace in War on Terror

Villagers in Ethiopia's Ogaden region, an area subjected to regular, devastating droughts that turn any workable topsoil to dust.
Eric Westervelt, NPR
Villagers in Ethiopia's Ogaden region, an area subjected to regular, devastating droughts that turn any workable topsoil to dust.

A proverbial "hearts-and-minds" campaign is being waged from a U.S. military base in the tiny African nation of Djibouti. American soldiers are digging wells and building schools throughout the region, not kicking down doors in search of terrorist suspects.

It's what some think the real war on terrorism should look like. Eric Westervelt visits Djibouti and the largely ungoverned Ogaden region of eastern Ethiopia.

In one village, the U.S. military delivers a water pump that will help local residents irrigate their crops.

"I don't see al Qaeda down here anywhere digging wells, they're not building bridges," says a Special Forces master sergeant who didn't want his name used. "If you pull the trigger here, you've lost. And you can't change a culture but you can influence it. This is where we're going to win is right here. It's preventive medicine."

But some criticize the task force for not doing more to deal with the biggest danger in the region, an unstable Somalia.

Ted Dange with the Congressional Research Service says the military can dig a thousand wells for Somalia's neighbors, but it's all for naught if the United States and its allies don't engage Somalia.

"There is a disconnect there," Dange says. "You can spend as much as you want, you can have as many troops as you want. But if you don't address the root causes of the problem, both politically and socially, you are likely to have a failed policy."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.

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