U.S. Africa Command, its leader told the Senate Armed Services Committee today, employs partner-building efforts and small, targeted investments to enhance security on the African continent.
Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser described the regional and continental challenges his command faces.
“Africa is an enduring interest for the United States. Small, but wise, investments in the capability, legitimacy and accountability of African defense institutions offer disproportionate benefits to America, our allies … and most importantly, enable African solutions to African problems,” he said.
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Parts of Africa ‘a Battleground’
“Parts of Africa remain a battleground between ideologies, interests and values,” Waldhauser said. “Equality, prosperity and peace are often pitted against extremism, oppression and conflict.”
Transregional violent extremist organizations on the continent constitute the most direct security threat to the United States, the general said. To address those threats, he said, Africom’s military strategy articulates a long-term, regionally focused approach for a safe and stable Africa.
Specifically, the strategy outlines an Africa in which regional organizations and states are willing and capable partners. Africom’s strategy, he said, builds partners’ abilities to direct, manage and operate capable and sustainable defense institutions.
“While we have achieved progress in implementing our strategy, threats and challenges still remain,” Waldhauser acknowledged.
Countering Al-Shabab in East Africa
“In East Africa, we support African Union and European Union efforts to neutralize al-Shabab and other violent extremist organizations operating in Somalia,” the general said. “And we also support the eventual transfer of security responsibilities from the African Union Mission in Somalia to the Somali national security forces.”
In 2016, the general said, al-Shabab regained some previously-held Somali territory, and the group continues to attack African Union Mission in Somalia forces.
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“Additionally, we have also seen elements of [Islamic State of Iraq and Syria] begin to make inroads into Somalia, which will further test Amisom forces and the central government of Somalia,” Waldhauser said.
Stability in Libya is “a long-term proposition,” he said, adding that Africom supports Libya’s efforts to reestablish legitimate and unified government. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is a rising threat, he noted.
“This is a significant challenge,” he cautioned, “and we must carefully choose where and with whom we work … in order to counter ISIS-Libya … not to shift the balance between various factions and risk sparking greater conflict in Libya.”
West Africa Threats: Boko Haram, ISIS
In western Africa, the general said, Africom’s mission centers on extremist groups Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa, an ISIS splinter group.
“Since 2011, Boko Haram has consistently carried out attacks against civilians and targeted partner regional governments and military forces in the Lake Chad basin region,” Waldhauser said.
Africom works with forces from Benin, Cameroon, Chad, Niger and Nigeria in a multinational joint task force, he said. The task force, the general added, “has been successful in enabling multinational cooperation in coordinating multinational operations, and placed significant pressure on Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa.”
In Central Africa, through the combined efforts of military forces, civilian agencies and nongovernmental organizations, Africom works to build partner capacity to address regional threats such as maritime security, illicit trafficking of goods and persons, the Lord’s Resistance Army and other criminal networks and enterprises, Waldhauser said.
Across Africa, the general said, “We support the efforts to enable African partners to respond to humanitarian crises, mass atrocities, disaster contingencies, and to support peace operations.”
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Through the “National Guard’s State Partnership Program, along with their African partners, we’ve improved disaster management competency and readiness to assist civilian-led efforts,” the general said.
Africom sees “great value” in and fully supports the National Guard’s persistent engagement in the program, Waldhauser said.
Africom’s mission is dynamic and complex, and requires innovative solutions, he said.
“Even with limited resources and capabilities, Africa Command aggressively works with partners and allies to execute our missions and mitigate risk,” Waldhauser said. “Moving forward, we continue to focus our decisive efforts on building African partner capacity, and will continue to work closely with the international and interagency partners to make small, wise investments which pay huge dividends in building stable and effective governments -- the foundation for long-term security in Africa.”
(Follow Karen Parrish on Twitter: @dodnewskparrish)