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Africa Command Building Capacity, Helping African Nations Work Together

By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity

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WASHINGTON, Nov. 20, 2015 — Extremism is a problem in Africa, but the people and nations of the continent are working together to defeat it, the commander of U.S. Africa Command told the Defense Writers’ Group here today.

Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez said he came to his command wanting to build local capabilities on the continent and to encourage nations to band together to confront the scourge of groups like Boko Haram in Nigeria, al-Shabab in Somalia, a growing Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant presence in Libya and al-Qaida in the Maghreb and its offshoots on the continent.

He is starting to see a payoff, he said.

U.S. Africa Command’s main effort is helping African nations build the capabilities and capacity needed to handle their own problems, the general said. This is being accomplished through small teams of U.S. forces who are working with nations at the request of their governments.

“The major thing they need and want is training and understanding how to operate in the environments they are working in,” Rodriguez said. “They usually need help in the same type of areas -- command and control and communications, [and] intelligence -- we do a tremendous amount of intelligence training throughout the African continent. They need help in logistics and mobility. They need help in specialty skills anti-mine or IEDs.

“For their militaries and institutions, the most important thing for them is to grow leaders and select the right people and build the systems that sustain their efforts for the long run,” he continued.

Regional Cooperation

The nations are working very hard together to protect the region -- something that wasn’t always the case, the general said.

For example, countries in West Africa considered Boko Haram a Nigerian problem and weren’t very worried about it. The group operated in the northeast part of Nigeria, leaving a trail of blood and tears. The Nigerian army and police were ineffective in stopping the group. Now Boko Haram has declared allegiance to ISIL and the group is spreading. Neighboring countries took note and they are cooperating against the terrorists in a way they hadn’t before, Rodriguez said.

It’s having an effect on the terrorists, he said, but much more needs to be done.

The same is true in Somalia, where Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia are cooperating in the African Union Mission in Somalia to bring stability to that nation. This cooperation is working there, too, as Rodriguez noted wryly that Yemenis are now escaping their country for the security of Somalia.

The cooperation among nations is growing as their capabilities are increasing, the general said. In fact, “some of the African nations that have the capacity are also helping to train some of their partners in addition to operating together,” he said. “Some of the countries in Africa train African military leaders -- that’s a good news story. That’s the next step as they build their ability to generate their own forces and train their own forces that they will train each other.”

Even the Ebola crisis helped countries work together, Rodriguez said. They had to cooperate to halt the spread of the dread disease. Eleven countries have received training in combatting Ebola and they are sharing lessons learned.

When DoD established U.S. Africa Command in 2007, many nations on the continent evinced distrust. That seems to be a thing of the past. “I think Africa Command has been able to first, listen to the Africans, and then help them where they really need the help,” Rodriguez said. “I don’t detect too many places now where there is a negative perception of what we are doing in Africa.”

(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDoDNews)