U.S. Africa Command’s commander has said that his command will continue its strategy of “by, with and through” partner nations on the continent as it continues efforts to make Africa a more stable and secure place.
Marine Corps Gen. Thomad D. Waldhauser spoke to the US House Armed Services Committee on 6 March about the investigation into the incident in Niger in October last year that claimed the lives of four Army Special Forces troops. He said he has completed his review of the investigation and it is with Defence Secretary James N. Mattis.
“Once the secretary completes his review and the families have been briefed, I intend to provide a comprehensive and detailed account of the investigation to you as soon as possible,” Waldhauser told the committee.
Africom is adjusting its strategy on the continent to comply with Mattis’ direction stemming from the National Defence Strategy. The command partners with nations to strengthen security forces to counter transnational threats. It also stands ready to respond to crises on the continent and to promote regional stability, security and prosperity, Africom said.
“Very few — if any — of the challenges on the continent can be resolved through the use of military force,” Waldhauser told the committee. “Africom’s first strategic tenet stresses the military activities are designed to support and enable U.S. diplomatic and development efforts.”
The command aims to give national leaders the time and space they need to establish firm governance, he said, which will give the nations the stability to grow their economies.
Pressuring Terror Groups
The goal is for national defence forces to provide for their own security, the general said. While African nations have tremendous potential, they are often beset by instability and exploitation stemming from the disruption caused by violent extremist organizations, he said. “These groups take advantage of vast ungoverned spaces and recruit from populations lacking economic opportunities,” Waldhauser explained.
The groups operating on the continent are all too familiar: al-Qaida, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, Boko Haram and al-Shabab. Smaller groups operate in other areas.
The command approaches these threats by keeping pressure on the terror networks in order to mitigate their destabilizing influences.
Waldhauser said his staff is working changes in the strategy and the command’s campaign plan to take into account the changes in the National Security Strategy and in the operating environment.
The general gave the committee a tour of the continent from Africom’s perspective. In East Africa, the command is part of the international commitment to help Somalis to implement their national security architecture. Al-Shabab remains a threat to Somalia and the region, as reflected by the bombing of a hotel in Mogadishu on Oct. 14, 2017, that killed more than 500 people. The challenges to Somalia are enormous, yet the government — also working with the African Union and European Union — continues to make progress, Waldhauser said.
In North Africa, Libya remains politically and militarily divided with leaders and factions vying for power ahead of potential elections later this year. “As part of an international effort, Africom supports diplomatic objectives for political reconciliation. Government of National Accord and maintain pressure on ISIS, and al-Qaida networks,” he said.
The Sahel is a wide swath of the continent that bridges the Sahara and the savannah. The region has tremendous problems that international terror networks capitalize on. Africom supports international efforts in the Western Sahel and in the nearby Lake Chad region of West Africa. The command works with the G5 countries of the region — Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Niger and Mauritania — to provide training, advice and assistance.
Africom also works with a multinational joint task force consisting of Nigeria, Cameroon, Benin, Chad and Niger in order to contain violent extremism and to help the nations secure their borders from the Boko Haram terror group.
“Violent extremist organizations are a huge challenge to African nations,” Waldhauser said. “At the present time, [the terror networks] really do not have the capability to conduct operations, for example, in the United States. But they certainly aspire to do that”.
Africom looks to forestall those aspirations to the point that local security forces can handle the treats. “We’re trying to prevent something from happening before it does,” the general said.
There is a strong desire for U.S. leadership and involvement on the continent. There are 1.2 billion people living in Africa today, a figure that is due to increase to 2.4 billion by 2050. “That’s one in four people on the planet [living] on the African continent,” Waldhauser said. “Any type of situation — whether it be humanitarian or security — the scale of potential problems there is really enormous. If there were outbreaks of some sort of disease — Ebola, the HIV virus continues to spread — the numbers we would talk about would be significant.”
He noted that U.N. statistics indicate that half the population of Somalia is “food insecure.” Last year, that was six million people. This year it is around 5 million.
“These are numbers of a scale and scope that if security issues or humanitarian issues were left unchecked or if we didn’t participate in trying to contain those, we would have significant challenges of a large scale for a long time,” the general said.