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Africom Commander: Africa Home to Threat, Opportunity

By Claudette Roulo DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, March 26, 2015 — The U.S. Africa Command area of responsibility is home to growing threats and opportunities, Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez, Africom’s commander, said today.

“In the past year, we achieved progress in several areas through close cooperation with our allies and partners,” Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Countering Violent Extremism

Through its efforts to build significant partner capacity, the general said, Africom has played a major role in regional efforts to contain violent extremism by groups such as al-Shabab, other al-Qaida affiliates, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and Boko Haram.

“With our support, friends and regional partners have disrupted violent extremist networks and a small number of our unilateral operations have applied additional pressure,” he said.

“Furthermore, in Central Africa, combined military and civilian efforts significantly reduced the Lord's Resistance Army's ability to threaten civilian populations,” Rodriguez said.

Responding to Regional Crises

These efforts have paid dividends in addressing nonviolent challenges as well, he told the senators.

“As an example, in Liberia we supported [the U.S. Agency for International Development] and the Liberian nation in responding to the largest Ebola epidemic in history,” the general said.

Africom forces, working with the State Department and regional partners, have improved their posture and capability to protect U.S. personnel and facilities, Rodriguez said.

“When security in Libya deteriorated, we assisted in the safe departure of U.S. and allied personnel,” he said. “Conversely, in the Central African Republic, we provided security that enabled the resumption of embassy operations.”

Trans-regional Terrorism Expanding ‘Aggressively’

The challenges of the region do not confine themselves to national borders, the general said.

“Trans-regional terrorists and criminal networks continue to adapt and expand aggressively,” Rodriguez said. “While al-Shabab is weakened in Somalia, it remains a persistent threat to U.S. and regional interests. Al-Shabab has broadened its operations to conduct or attempt to conduct asymmetric attacks against Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti and, especially, Kenya.”

ISIL’s expanding presence in Libya has the “highest potential among security challenges in Africa to increase risks to U.S. strategic interests in the near future,” the general said. However, he added, Boko Haram is expanding out of Nigeria into Cameroon, Niger and Chad.

“In Somalia, Libya and Nigeria, the international community is challenged to implement the comprehensive approaches necessary to advance governance, security and development,” Rodriguez said. “Declining resources will make this more difficult.”

To mitigate increasing risk, Africom is sharpening its priorities and working to better-align resources with strategy, he told the Senate panel.

“We are coordinating with international and interagency partners to harmonize our efforts across the continent, and we are seeking to increase operational and programmatic flexibility,” the general said.

(Follow Claudette Roulo on Twitter: @roulododnews)