A common Islamist extremist trope is that foreign forces are invaders which must be chased out: that is why they attack them.
Remember the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979? I know it was a long time ago but try to teleport yourself back to those days. This was towards the end of the Cold War and ramped up east-west tensions even higher than they were.
We in the West did not do a lot to help the poor Afghan people subject to occupation (although the US did send weapons to the so-called ‘mujahedin’). Those who fought the usurpers were average Afghans as well as the ‘Afghan Arabs’, a wave of foreign fighters. In the end they ‘won’, and the Soviets fled.
The war also helped promote the ideas of Abdallah Azzam, a Palestinian preacher who developed an interesting concept of jihad. I will defer a longer discussion on his ideas – and refer you to Thomas Hegghammer’s excellent biography of Azzam – but cite one small part. The sheikh said that if a foreign army takes Muslim land all Muslims have an individual obligation (fard ayn in Arabic) to go there and expel the enemy. This has become standard fodder in Islamist terrorist group propaganda ever since.
You would think that terrorist groups would be loath to take on armies for a very simple reason: armies are normally bigger and have much greater firepower. This is a real David and Goliath situation. And yet they do. A lot.
RELATED — Listen to my interview with Thomas Hegghammer on my podcast An Intelligent Look at Terrorism
On this day in 2018 the Somalia-based terrorist group Al Shabaab claimed it attacked an African Union (AMISOM) base in Lower Shabelle with two car bombs and subsequent gunfire, killing 59 Ugandan soldiers. Contrarily, a Somali military officer counterclaimed that the attack had been repelled and several terrorists killed. Another officer noted: “There was heavy fighting and we could see smoke rising above the military base.” He said, she said.
Al-Shabaab also attacked local civilians, setting houses and shops ablaze. The group shows no signs of weakening, despite years of strikes by the Somali National Army, AMISOM and US drone and airstrikes. And we can expect more attacks on the foreign military presence.