Can you update us on the War on Terror in Africa?

Don’t Panic! . . . Your war questions answered

Every hit show needs a spin-off.

“All in the Family” spawned “The Jeffersons.” “Diff’rent Strokes” begat “The Facts of Life.” “Happy Days” gave us “Laverne & Shirley,” “Mork & Mindy,” “Joanie Loves Chachi” and “Blansky’s Beauties,” a 1977 sitcom that’s only lasting value seems to be the laughs I’ve gotten from a couple of my friends for remembering it.

Inspired by the surprise success of 2001-2002’s midseason replacement series “War on Terror: Afghanistan,” George Bush ripped a page from the “Law & Order” and “CSI” playbooks and created a stable of War on Terror spin-offs.

“War on Terror: Homeland” was a moderate hit from 2002 to 2004, but viewers began to tire of the show’s predictable plot line that saw Bush administration officials raising the color-coded threat level every time Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign needed a boost.

“War on Terror: Iraq” debuted strong, but its ratings went into a free fall after Bush’s writers were forced to take the popular “WMD” and “Saddam = 9/11” plot lines and replace them with less popular ones about “nurturing democracy” and “baby-sitting a civil war.”

The least well-known series of the W.O.T. franchise is “War on Terror: Africa.” Now in its fourth season, the show has never been able to rise above cult status, due in large part to its spotty distribution. It’s impossible to find on television and difficult to spot online. Below is a summary of the action in “War on Terror: Africa” to date.

(Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.)

“War on Terror: Africa” follows several U.S. military units that are determined to stop al-Qaeda operatives from carrying out attacks and gaining support among African Muslims.

“War on Terror: Africa” takes place mainly in two African subregions, East Africa and the Western Sahara.

East Africa is where al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden introduced themselves to the American public via synchronized bomb attacks on the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. In June 2002, the United States established a military base in Djibouti for an operation called Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. A former French colony, Djibouti borders the vast, al-Qaeda-friendly, ungoverned wasteland labeled “Somalia” on our maps. It’s also a short ride across the Gulf of Aden or Red Sea to the Arabian peninsula.

In 2004, the U.S. military claimed that its East African operations resulted in the arrests of dozens of people linked to terrorist groups in countries up and down East Africa, including Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Kenya.

Though progress reports are sporadic, the U.S. military is still active in East Africa. In February, 10 U.S. servicemen and women died when their helicopters crashed off the coast of Djibouti during what the Pentagon described as a training mission. On March 18, U.S. naval forces exchanged fire with suspected sea pirates in the Red Sea, killing one person and injuring several more.

In a Voice of America interview on March 20 with Saleban Aadan Barqad, a spokesman for the suspected pirates, he denied that his comrades were doing anything illegal or aggressive.

Many hundreds of miles to the west of all that “Aarggh!” and “Shiver me timbers!” business, U.S. Special Forces are busy training military forces in the Sahara. The U.S. began ratcheting up military activity in the region after 32 European backpackers were kidnapped in the desert separating Mali from Algeria by the Islamic militant group Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat. The German government reportedly paid a $6 million ransom for some of the hostages and, according to several reports, the al-Qaeda-linked Salafists spent the money on weapons and buying the protection of local sheikhs.

America is reportedly spending about $500 million between now and 2012 to train regional militaries to fight Islamic militants before the militants are able to get a decent foothold.

The Western Sahara is important to the United States because of, among other things, its proximity to West African oil. No one questions the importance of keeping al-Qaeda out of Western Africa, but some in the region say the al-Qaeda threat is overstated and that regional governments are exaggerating the al-Qaeda threat to goad the United States into spending money on them.