Africom Commander Details Current, Emerging Threats

ARLINGTON, Va. , June 25, 2012 — U.S. Africa Command’s top mil­i­tary offi­cer today detailed exist­ing and emerg­ing threats from extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions on the con­ti­nent in a speech at the African Cen­ter for Strate­gic Stud­ies here.

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Army Gen. Carter F. Ham also explained the U.S. pres­ence in Africa and Africom ini­tia­tives based on the new U.S. defense strate­gic guid­ance.

“When you read the [guid­ance], you will find that the word ‘Africa’ appears pre­cise­ly once,” he said. “So some ques­tion that and say, ‘So does that mean that the Unit­ed States mil­i­tary does not real­ly think very seri­ous­ly, or is not very com­mit­ted, to African secu­ri­ty mat­ters?’ My response to that is, ‘No, our view is actu­al­ly quite dif­fer­ent.’ ”

Ham said while it is true the U.S. mil­i­tary now is focused on the Asia-Pacif­ic region and the Mid­dle East, the strate­gic guid­ance refers to “some very con­sis­tent and very rel­e­vant pri­or­i­ties for those of us who oper­ate with our African part­ners.”

These include com­bat­ting extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions, transna­tion­al threats and illic­it traf­fick­ing; coun­ter­ing pira­cy, build­ing part­ner capac­i­ty; devel­op­ing nations’ capa­bil­i­ties to deal with human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance and dis­as­ter relief mis­sions; and con­tribut­ing to region­al secu­ri­ty, Ham said.

“All of those tasks are out­lined in this doc­u­ment, and all of those tasks are the tasks that Unit­ed States Africom focus­es on with you,” he added.

The gen­er­al told the audi­ence that U.S. efforts in Africa entail an “absolute imper­a­tive … to pro­tect Amer­i­ca, Amer­i­cans and Amer­i­can inter­ests,” just as in oth­er parts of the world.

Specif­i­cal­ly, Ham said, his command’s seeks to pro­tect the Unit­ed States and its inter­ests from threats that may emerge from the con­ti­nent.

“I’ll start in East Africa, where we see very clear­ly the threat of al-Qai­da in East Africa, and its affil­i­at­ed orga­ni­za­tion, al-Shabaab, which oper­ates prin­ci­pal­ly, but not exclu­sive­ly, in Soma­lia,” he said. “We also know that because — in Soma­lia espe­cial­ly — al-Shabaab’s pres­ence has denied the deliv­ery of … human­i­tar­i­an assis­tance to a pop­u­la­tion that has been under some sig­nif­i­cant duress for a long peri­od of time,” Ham said.

U.S. mil­i­tary involve­ment prin­ci­pal­ly is in train­ing, equip­ping and fund­ing the African Union Mis­sion and Soma­lian forces from Ugan­da, Burun­di, Dji­bouti, Sier­ra Leone and Kenya.

“Ethiopia … has been quite effec­tive in its role, as well,” he not­ed. “And we think that’s an ide­al role for the Unit­ed States — not a large, U.S. mil­i­tary pres­ence. We think that would be coun­ter­pro­duc­tive in Soma­lia, actu­al­ly.”

Rather, he said, the Unit­ed States wants to apply its resources in Africa to help coun­tries will­ing to con­tribute to the effort with train­ing, equip­ping and with some fund­ing so that they can con­tin­ue their oper­a­tions.

Oth­er extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions in Africa, such as al-Qai­da in the Lands of the Islam­ic Maghreb and Boko Haram, also pose a con­cern, Ham said, not­ing that offi­cials are increas­ing­ly con­cerned with the for­mer, which now has a safe haven in a large por­tion of Mali after a mil­i­tary coup there.

The group is oper­at­ing “essen­tial­ly uncon­strained,” Ham said, and is imple­ment­ing a harsh reli­gious law sys­tem through­out much of north­ern Mali. It also has “very clear­ly” shown a desire and intent to attack Amer­i­cans, he added.

“Just to the south of that, we see the increas­ing­ly vio­lent orga­ni­za­tion, Boko Haram, oper­at­ing in Nige­ria,” he said. Boko Haram is not a new orga­ni­za­tion, he told the audi­ence, and it’s not mono­lith­ic. “Every­body in Boko Haram does­n’t feel the same way,” Ham said. “It has many dif­fer­ent fac­tions.”

Each of the extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions is “wor­ri­some” in its own right, the gen­er­al said, and there are indi­ca­tions they are seek­ing to coor­di­nate and syn­chro­nize their efforts.

“In oth­er words, [they seek] to estab­lish a coop­er­a­tive effort amongst the three most vio­lent orga­ni­za­tions, and I think that’s a real prob­lem for us, and for Africa’s secu­ri­ty, in gen­er­al,” he said. Al-Qai­da in the Lands of the Islam­ic Maghreb and Boko Haram may be shar­ing funds, train­ing and explo­sive mate­ri­als, he added.

Libya also is a con­cern as it comes out of its rev­o­lu­tion and forms its new gov­ern­ment, Ham said.

“There very tru­ly are those who wish to under­mine the for­ma­tion of that gov­ern­ment,” he said. “And again, we see some wor­ry­ing indi­ca­tors that al-Qai­da and oth­ers are seek­ing to estab­lish a pres­ence in Libya.”

Part of Libya’s chal­lenge, he said, is for the new gov­ern­ment to now bring togeth­er the many mili­tias which fought “very brave­ly and effec­tive­ly” to over­throw Gad­hafi.

Ham said the Unit­ed States seeks to help by estab­lish­ing a “nor­mal­ized” mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary rela­tion­ship with Libya.

“I’ve been to Tripoli a num­ber of times,” he added. “We’ve had Libyan offi­cials vis­it us in our head­quar­ters in Ger­many, and we have start­ed to map out what the U.S. assis­tance might be for Libya well into the future.”

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)