Africom Helps Partners Stand Up to Violent Extremism
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Oct. 23, 2013 Citing progress in helping African partners countering violent extremist organizations, the commander of U.S. Africa Command said the terrorist attack last month at a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, actually shows that U.S. efforts and policies are working.
“We work very hard with all the troop-contributing nations to help best prepare them to support their operational efforts,” and to help make the African Union Mission in Somalia “as effective as it can be,” Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez told reporters today during an online news conference.
Africom, working in support of the State Department initiative, provides mentors and teams with its State Department counterparts to prepare soldiers assigned to the AMISOM mission, he explained. The command also shares intelligence to increase its AMISOM partners’ effectiveness, and is helping the Somali government in improving the Somali national army’s capacity.
“We think some of the successes the AMISOM has had over the last several years has actually led to this response by al-Shabab,” the Somali-based terrorist organization that claimed responsibility for the Kenyan attack, Rodriguez told reporters.
“This really validates the strategy,” he said. “And we are going to continue to work with our partners to strengthen their capability to stop al-Shabab from having an incredibly negative impact on both the people of Somalia as well as the region.”
Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who joined Rodriguez during the news conference, said she was “horrified” by the attack left almost 70 people dead. But recognizing that “al-Shabab looks for soft targets, because other targets are being made harder to get after,” she agreed that the attack validated the current path.
“In terms of our policies regarding al-Shabab, we were pursing the right strategies,” she said. “[The attack] just showed us we need to bolster that strategy. … We know we must continue those efforts to go after al-Shabab so that we don’t see those kinds of attacks happen again.”
Rodriguez credited coordinated efforts by Africom, its international and interagency partners and nongovernmental organizations to help African nations stand up to extremist organizations that threaten their security.
The threat runs the gamut, including al-Shabab in the east, al-Qaida and its affiliates in North Africa, Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army in Central Africa, and the Boko Haram organization in Nigeria.
Although these extremist organizations have no formalized organizational structure, they frequently work together to fulfill their common ideology “and the impact they want to have to destabilize the countries,” Rodriguez said.
“[It] all has a negative impact on what the African nations desire and what they deserve and what they are working to end,” he added.
Responding to this threat requires more than just military capability, the general emphasized.
“The solution to terrorism in the region is a long-term, broad, whole-of-government approach by all our partners,” Rodriguez said. “It is not solved just by military operations. … It is about economic development, it is about the improvement in governance, it is about the rule of law and law enforcement.”
Coordinated efforts to promote all of these areas are making Africa less hospitable to extremists, he said.
“Partners in east, north and west Africa have made progress in countering violent extremist organizations such as al-Shabab and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb,” he said. He also noted U.S. support that is helping the African Union’s regional task force make headway against the LRA.
Rodriguez underscored Africom’s commitment to working with its regional partners and the interagency teams to build on this progress.
“Our focus continues to be on strengthening the African defense capabilities so that Africans can solve this problem themselves,” he said.
The impact of that effort will reach far beyond the African continent, the general said.
“The ones who are hurt the most by terrorism are the African people themselves,” he said. “[But] we are supporting [Africa] and all its countries to ensure this scourge does not have a negative impact on the world.”