Ham Cites Terror Group Issue in Africa

WASHINGTON, Sept. 15, 2011 — The com­man­der of U.S. Africa Com­mand is wor­ried about moves by ter­ror groups on the con­ti­nent to work togeth­er, pos­si­bly pos­ing a threat to the Unit­ed States.

Army Gen. Carter F Ham, who spoke to reporters at the Defense Writ­ers’ Group here yes­ter­day, said that while al-Qai­da may be “some­what dimin­ished,” its affil­i­ates in Africa pose a grow­ing con­cern.

The three pri­ma­ry ter­ror­ist groups in Africa are Al-Shabab in Soma­lia, al-Qai­da in the Islam­ic Mah­greb in the Sahel region, and Boko Haram in Nige­ria.

“Each of those three pose a sig­nif­i­cant threat not only in the nations where they pri­mar­i­ly oper­ate, but region­al­ly,” Ham said, “and I think they pose a threat to the Unit­ed States.”

The three ter­ror groups have explic­it­ly and pub­licly voiced intent to tar­get West­ern­ers, in gen­er­al, and the Unit­ed States, specif­i­cal­ly. “I have ques­tions about their capa­bil­i­ties to do so; I have no ques­tion about their intent to do so,” Ham said. “And that, to me, is very wor­ry­ing.”

The three groups also have voiced their intent to increase col­lab­o­ra­tion, and syn­chro­nize their efforts.

“We’re see­ing this most clear­ly between AQIM and Boko Haram,” the gen­er­al said.

And the ter­ror­ist groups have expressed an inter­est in shar­ing train­ing sites and in plan­ning oper­a­tions.

“That is very, very wor­ry­ing,” Ham said. “The con­nec­tions with al-Shabab are prob­a­bly more ide­al­is­tic than real­is­tic at this point, but just the fact that they want to con­nect is wor­ry­ing.”

If left unad­dressed, the ter­ror groups could coa­lesce and pro­duce a net­work that would run from East Africa, through the cen­ter of the con­ti­nent and into the Sahel and Mah­greb, he said.

The Unit­ed States has to work with region­al part­ners to address the ter­ror­ist threat in Africa, Ham said. U.S. offi­cials also must under­stand, he added, that the Africans are bet­ter suit­ed to address this threat than a solu­tion imposed from out­side.

In Mali, for exam­ple, al-Qai­da in the Mah­greb is a huge prob­lem, Ham said. The Malian gov­ern­ment needs assis­tance to counter the ter­ror­ist group, and Africom has worked with the gov­ern­ment to beef up its anti-ter­ror­ist capa­bil­i­ties.

“We think we’re doing that in a mean­ing­ful way,” he said.

The gen­er­al also addressed con­di­tions in Libya, and the pos­si­bil­i­ty that extrem­ist groups might try to hijack the rev­o­lu­tion against Moam­mar Gad­hafi. The Unit­ed Nations will have a large role in post-con­flict Libya, and the inter­na­tion­al orga­ni­za­tion is aware of the extrem­ist prob­lem, he said.

Ham said he’s also con­cerned about the pos­si­ble pro­lif­er­a­tion of weapons from Libya, start­ing with man-portable air defense weapons. Gad­hafi bought thou­sands of the weapons, and it would be dan­ger­ous if ter­ror groups got their hands on them. Ham said there has been greater intel­li­gence shar­ing and bet­ter bor­der enforce­ment in the region to con­trol the spread of such sys­tems.

The amount of con­ven­tion­al weapon­ry and weapon-mak­ing mate­ri­als in Libya also con­cerns the gen­er­al. These could sup­ply ter­ror groups like al-Qai­da in the Mah­greb or Boko Haram with the com­po­nents for impro­vised explo­sive devices.

Ham is con­cerned about resid­ual mate­ri­als and com­po­nents of chem­i­cal weapons in Gadhafi’s arse­nal.

Before March, “there was an on-going effort to demil­i­ta­rize the mate­ri­als, but they didn’t com­plete it,” Ham said. “There’s a great con­cern about that mate­r­i­al, even though it is not weaponized and not eas­i­ly weaponized.”

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