Africom Commander: Terror
Threat Remains Across Africa
By Nick Simeone, American Forces
Washington D.C. – (AFPS)
– March 6, 2014 – Helped by the Arab Spring, terrorist groups in North and West
Africa have expanded their operations, increasing threats to the United States
and its interests, the commander of U.S. Africa Command told Congress today.
“These revolutions, coupled with the fragility of neighboring states, continue
to destabilize the region,” Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez told the Senate Armed
Services Committee in prepared testimony.
“The spillover effects of revolutions include the return of
fighters and flow of weapons from Libya to neighboring countries following the
fall of the Gadhafi regime and the export of foreign fighters from North Africa
to the Syrian conflict,” the general said.
Rodriguez described the security situation in Libya -- where
a NATO-backed air campaign in 2011 aimed at protecting civilians from
pro-Gadhafi forces eventually led to the leader’s overthrow -- as volatile and
tenuous, especially in the east and southwest. “Militia groups control
significant areas of territory and continue to exert pressure on the Libyan
government,” he said.
Africom, he said, is working to help build Libyan security
forces, but in the meantime, terrorist groups including those affiliated with
al-Qaida have taken root in vast, lawless areas of the country and are using the
region as a base to extend their reach across northwest Africa.
Farther west, though, Rodriguez pointed to success the United
States and its French and African allies have had in stabilizing Mali, where
Islamic extremists took control of a large swath of the desert country’s north
following a coup two years ago. “U.S. support has enabled [United Nations
forces] and French operations to secure key cities and disrupt terrorist
organizations,” he added.
Rodriguez described challenges facing the United States and
Europe across the continent, from the Sahael region in West Africa to Somalia in
the east. “The collective aftermath of revolutions in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt,
including uncertain political transitions, spillover effects, and exploitation
by violent extremist organizations of under-governed spaces and porous borders
are key sources of instability that require us to remain vigilant in the near
term,” he said. While multi-national efforts are disrupting terrorists, he added,
“the growth and activity of the violent extremist network across the African
continent continues to outpace these efforts.”
Rodriguez ticked off a list of security challenges facing the
continent and his command.
Despite programs and exercises with Nigeria, the terrorist
group Boko Haram continues to attack civilian and government facilities and has
extended its reach into neighboring Niger, Chad and Cameroon. In Somalia, after
having no presence in the country for years, the U.S. military now has three
people on the ground, he said, to coordinate with U.N. and other partnered
forces to disrupt and contain al-Shabaab forces and expand areas under the
control of the nominal government in Mogadishu.
He described the efforts as playing “limited, but important
roles” in weakening the militant group, which controls portions of the country
and claimed responsibility for a massacre at a shopping mall in Nairobi, Kenya,
in September that killed more than 60 people.
Rodriguez reported significant progress in reducing piracy.
“In 2013, zero ships were hijacked in nine attempted attacks in the region,” he
said. Just two years earlier, there had been more than 150 attempted hijackings.
While Rodriguez said Africom is using military-to-military
engagements, programs, exercises and other operations to respond to crises and
deter threats, he emphasized that these efforts are geared toward enabling
African partners to handle these problems. “We believe efforts to meet security
challenges in Africa are best led and conducted by African partners,” he said,
efforts that ultimately will depend on African nations developing effective
partner-nation security institutions that respect civilian authority.
(Follow Nick Simeone on Twitter: @SimeoneAFPS)
Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez
U.S. Africa Command
Special Report: U.S. Africa Command