Boko Haram kidnaps hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls to be used as sex slaves. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb guns down dozens of victims at the Splendid Hotel in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso. Still other terrorists attack the Radisson Blu in Mali, just one week after the Islamic State attacked Paris. Africa has been suffering from still more terrorist shootings, bombings and suicide attacks, regularly.

How should the United States respond to these increasing Islamist attacks in Africa? The U.S. command there has figured out a clever way to make a significant difference without overstepping its orders. But as the problem of Islamist insurgencies continues, the United States will have to watch out for mission creep.

How the U.S. usually approaches insurgencies

Currently, U.S. military policy tilts back and forth between counterinsurgency and counterterror operations (or COIN and CT, in military parlance).

Counterterror operations aggressively target people who are violently attacking (or planning to attack) the United States or its allies. The goal: Destroy our enemies, or at least, make it much harder for them to attack our friends. The United States now has counterterrorism operations — teams of Special Forces troops and armed drones — underway in Yemen and Afghanistan.

The other major approach is counterinsurgency, or COIN. Counterinsurgency tries to strengthen local social structures to “win hearts and minds,” so that local people stop supporting armed combatants. Counterinsurgency does include limited direct combat or police actions against terrorists or insurgents to protect efforts to build a functioning local community. But its real goal is to build a social and stable state that’s less likely to deteriorate into terrorism, usually through developing representative government structures like constitutions and voting, and local investment, and building infrastructure that will improve citizens’ lives.

However, as the Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for Middle East Policy and insurgency expert Andrew Exum observed, these two approaches are really a continuum rather than opposing ideas. Those working to defeat non-state violent actors can shift efforts across the spectrum — building up a working government and functioning state or destroying terrorists and insurgents — to find the proper balance on the way to the goal: peace and stability.

But AFRICOM is different from all other U.S. military commands