Africom Strives to ‘Turn on Lights’ Against Terrorism in Africa

STUTTGART, Ger­many, June 21, 2012 — Elim­i­nat­ing ter­ror­ist safe havens and sup­port for ter­ror­ist groups in Africa is a top U.S. Africa Com­mand pri­or­i­ty, Africom’s top mil­i­tary offi­cer said.

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Army Gen. Carter F. Ham told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice he’s com­mit­ted to work­ing with African part­ners to con­front vio­lent extrem­ists “that have very clear­ly artic­u­lat­ed an intent to attack the Unit­ed States, its allies, its cit­i­zens and its inter­ests both with­in Africa and also more broad­ly, in Europe.” 

All, he said, want to take advan­tage of ungoverned or under-gov­erned regions where they can oper­ate with­out restraint. Coun­ter­ing this threat is the com­mon denom­i­na­tor that dri­ves Ham’s the­ater engage­ment strat­e­gy and its broad array of oper­a­tions, exer­cis­es and secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion pro­grams. This includes teach­ing part­ner nations how to improve their bor­der secu­ri­ty, intel­li­gence and tac­ti­cal capa­bil­i­ties and equip­ping African nations so they can oper­ate more effectively. 

“Ulti­mate­ly, what we want to do through our activ­i­ties not just through Africom, but as a larg­er whole-of-gov­ern­ment and inter­na­tion­al effort is to ‘turn the lights on,’ ” said James Robert­son, an Africom strate­gist. “And when the lights are on, we will find increased secu­ri­ty and stability.” 

Africa has strug­gled for decades with civ­il wars and con­flicts, under­de­vel­op­ment and pover­ty that make it invit­ing to ter­ror­ists from the Mid­dle East, Robert­son said. 

“They want what Africa has to offer,” he added. “They want this ungoverned space so they can oper­ate freely, and so our aim is to deter and dis­rupt them and, ide­al­ly, ensure that they don’t gain access.” 

Rec­og­niz­ing the extent of the threat, Ham has set East Africa as the No. 1 focus of his com­mand­wide coun­tert­er­ror­ism strategy. 

“Why East Africa?” said Army Maj. Gen. Charles Hoop­er, the command’s direc­tor of strat­e­gy, plans and pro­grams. “It’s because East Africa faces the chal­lenges that we face in Ara­bia, par­tic­u­lar­ly Yemen, and the al-Qai­da ele­ments ema­nat­ing from Yemen and oth­er areas in the Mid­dle East.” It’s also home to the al-Shabab ter­ror orga­ni­za­tion in Soma­lia that for­mal­ly announced its affil­i­a­tion with al-Qai­da in February. 

Hoop­er also cit­ed oth­er ter­ror­ist threats in Africa. In the North African desert, the al-Qai­da in the Lands of the Islam­ic Maghreb orga­ni­za­tion is com­mit­ted to desta­bi­liz­ing the trans-Sahara region and North­west Africa. But its pur­suits, he said, also threat­en Euro­pean allies across the Mediter­ranean Sea, as well as the Unit­ed States. 

He also not­ed con­cerns in the Gulf of Guinea, a major tran­sit point for illic­it traf­fick­ing in drugs, weapons and humans bound pre­dom­i­nant­ly for Europe. In addi­tion, a vio­lent group known as Boko Haram has extend­ed its influ­ence to chal­lenge the cen­tral gov­ern­ment in Nige­ria a major eco­nom­ic pow­er in Africa and a con­trib­u­tor to Unit­ed Nations peace­keep­ing missions. 

Africa’s vast nat­ur­al resources com­pound the region’s strate­gic impor­tance, Hoop­er said, par­tic­u­lar­ly oil that’s export­ed to the Unit­ed States. 

“Access to the glob­al com­mons, and sta­bil­i­ty in West­ern Africa and in those impor­tant sea lines of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that run through the Gulf of Guinea and through West­ern Africa, remain impor­tant,” he said. 

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

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