U.S. Africa Command aims to assist African nations in building capacity and establishing institutions to maintain peace and create stability on the continent, Africom’s commander said in Brussels on Tuesday.
Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez spoke to reporters traveling with Marine Corps Gen. Joe Dunford, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Dunford was attending meetings of the NATO Military Committee in Brussels.
Africa is the world’s second-largest continent and is diverse ethnically, religiously, geographically and linguistically, Rodriguez said. There are threats, he said, from the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, in Libya; Boko Haram, centered around Nigeria; and al Shabab, in Somalia.
Working With African Partners
The key to operating in Africa is to work through African nations and with allies, the general said. “We’ve worked hard to always make it a multinational effort and the African partners to be the first part of the solution,” he said.
Rodriguez highlighted Somalia as an example. The African Union, he said, leads a peacekeeping effort in the country. Five nations — Uganda, Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Burundi — provide the bulk of the forces that train the Somali National Army and help maintain stability as the government tries to stand up. The terror group al Shabab has been pushed back in most areas of the country, but still maintains a fighting force.
This regional involvement has been crucial to the progress made against al-Shabab, Rodriguez said. The Djiboutians, he said, are working in the north and they have ties to that region. The Kenyans, he added, work in southern Somalia and they, too, have ties of kinship with the people across the border.
The Ethiopians are also working in the west, the general said. “This is hugely important, because they better understand the culture, and those nations helping each other is a big, big deal,” he said.
“There’s nothing that stays in the boundary of a country anymore,” Rodriguez said. “All of the threats end up being regional and transregional in nature….”
He added, “In addition to ‘regionalizing’ [the effort] on the African continent, we ‘internationalize’ it with the other partners — the European Union, France, the U.K., the Italians.”
The command coordinates the efforts as much as it can, “and we look at the gaps and see where we can fill them in,” Rodriguez said.
Assisting African Nations
Many nations in Africa have capable militaries, he said. Some countries have challenges in logistics, in command and control, in intelligence and with building joint enablers, he added. Some countries are doing well, he said, but overall the progress is uneven.
However, “10 years ago, in the United Nations peacekeeping missions, African nations provided 24 percent of the troops,” Rodriguez said. “Now they provide 47 percent — it’s almost doubled in 10 years. That’s all good news for the Africans.”
African nations need these capabilities to protect their citizens, he said.
“Boko Haram is the biggest killer of people in the world — they actually eclipse ISIL as far as most dangerous and largest number of casualties they caused this past year,” the general said. “ISIL is one of the most dangerous because they spread quickly and they own territory, especially in Libya … and they have aspirations to export some of their violence.”
There is a multinational joint task force established by African nations to combat Boko Haram, Rodriguez said. Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, Chad are part of that task force, he said, noting troops from Benin will soon join them.
ISIL in Libya
The growth of ISIL in Libya concerns neighbors and international partners, Rodriguez said. “The biggest thing in Libya is the stand-up of the Government of National Accord and how that works [to confront ISIL],” the general said.
The Africans, he said, are doing “a tremendous amount of work outside of and around Libya, whether it is the Tunisians who are working hard on the border, the Chadians on their northern border or the Nigerians working on the northeastern border to help limit the flow of foreign fighters into Libya.”
Secretary of State John F. Kerry participated in a meeting in Italy yesterday to provide support to the U.N.-endorsed Libyan Government of National Accord, Rodriguez said.
“Everybody now is waiting for the U.N. process to work for the weapons and the arms waiver to support the GNA,” the general said. “It will take some time to do that. The support the GNA needs and how and where they want it we will just have to see how that develops over time.”
The Libyans don’t need huge weapons shipments, and there are many Libyans with military backgrounds and experience, Rodriguez said. The United States, he added, needs more information on what is happening in Libya politically to plan how to help the GNA.
“We’re continuing to work to improve that picture,” Rodriguez said. “We know more now that we did six months ago, and we will continue to get better as [will] the whole international community.”
How the various militias inside Libya will sort out is a big question, the general said. The Misrata brigades “look like they have aligned with the GNA, but we really are dependent on the Government of National Accord to figure out who is with them and who is moving more toward them,” he said.
Rodriguez came here to discuss ways to more closely work with the European Union on the African continent.
“Ten of their 17 missions in the world are down in Africa,” the general said of the European Union. “About 88 percent of [the EU’s] military budget is spent in Africa. The European Union is a big partner [for Africa Command]. They are in Somalia, they are in Mali, they are in Tunisia for the Libya effort. They are out there with our people all the time.”