General Stephen Townsend, Commander of the US military’s Africa Command (Africom) briefed Congress on future threats and opportunities in Africa as well as the importance of US engagement as part of the command’s annual Posture Statement.
Testifying before the House Armed Services Committee on 20 April, Townsend spoke alongside Acting Under Secretary of Defence for Policy Amanda Dory and the US Central Command commander, US Marine Corps General Frank McKenzie, Jr.
“Historically, America has not been penalized for underestimating the importance of Africa,” Townsend said during his opening remarks. “Today, we can no longer afford to underestimate the economic opportunity and strategic consequence Africa embodies, and which competitors like China and Russia recognize.”
During the two-hour hearing, Townsend answered questions and discussed the command’s approach to addressing regional threats, including the threat of violent extremist organizations such as ISIS, Al Qaeda, and Al Shabaab. He also noted the risk of not confronting these groups where they exist.
“African-based VEOs [Violent Extremist Organisations], like Al-Qaeda affiliate Al Shabaab and ISIS, thrive in the continent’s ungoverned spaces, provide the greatest threat to many of our African partners, and aspire to kill Americans in Africa as well as at home,” said Townsend.
During his frequent travels to the African continent, Townsend shared with Congress a common theme and key to being a partner of choice in Africa.
“When I meet with African leaders, their primary concern is often VEOs killing their soldiers, kidnapping their civilians, and challenging their authority to rule,” said Townsend. “US Africa Command seeks to help partners and provide the tools needed to solve some of these challenges and issues.”
While challenges exist, Townsend noted the vast opportunity and development on the African continent.
According to the International Monetary Fund, Africa is home to 13 of the world’s 25 fastest growing economies and a rapidly expanding population. Over half of the world’s arable land is on the continent, along with much of the planet’s untapped mineral resources, including strategic minerals.
Townsend also noted how Russia and China, and even Iran, are pursuing their interests in Africa.
“Our strategic competitors are very active in Africa. China has invested heavily in their ‘second continent’ or as some Chinese think tanks call it, ‘China’s 4th or 5th Island Chain,’” he said. “Russia seeks to exploit instability and fragility for their own gain and at US expense. Iran is also increasingly active on the continent.”
US Africa Command, with partners, said it counters malign actors and transnational threats, responds to crises, and strengthens security forces in order to advance US national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity. “US Africa Command’s diplomacy, development, and defense model for strengthening relationships helps create conditions for African partners to build the governance and economic growth necessary to counter the influence of malign actors.”
“We do this mission arm in arm with the US interagency and through coordinated action with allies and partners,” said Townsend. “What Africom accomplishes with a few people and a few dollars, on a continent 3-and-a-half times the size of the continental United States, is a bargain.”