The US Department of Defence (DOD) continues to work with nations in North Africa to promote security and increase stability in the region still feeling the effects of the Arab Spring, Amanda J. Dory, deputy assistant secretary of defence for African affairs, told a Senate panel this week.
Libya, Tunisia, Algeria and Morocco are confronting instability and the US military is working to build or strengthen police and military forces in these countries, Dory told the Senate Armed Services Sub-Committee on Near Eastern and South and Central Asian Affairs.
“Our strategic approach recognises that developing strong and responsive defence institutions can support regional stability, allowing partner militaries to operate under civilian authority while respecting the rule of law and international human rights,” Dory said in prepared testimony.
The effects of the Arab Spring in North Africa continue to reverberate within the region and beyond its borders into the Sahelian states of sub-Saharan Africa, she said.
Libya remains a key source of instability in North Africa and the Sahel. After the overthrow of Muammar Gadhafi there is little government infrastructure inside Libya and certainly no tradition of democracy, she said.
“Violence is rampant in Libya and the Libyan government is too weak to control its borders and militias provide what security there is. Arms merchants are shipping Libyan weapons out of the country and these arms are fuelling instability from Mali westward.
“The Department of Defence is prioritising its assistance to focus on building Libyan security capacity and on improving the Libyan government’s ability to counter terrorism, counter weapons proliferation and secure and destroy its chemical weapons stockpiles,” Dory said.
The US will provide general purpose force military training for 5 000 to 8 000 Libyan personnel.
“This training effort is intended to help the Libyan government build the military it requires to protect government institutions and maintain order.”
The training of Libyan military personnel is expected to begin next year in Bulgaria.
In Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia, the DOD maintains close military-to-military ties with the military. All three countries are engaged in a security dialogue with the US and “they share our goals of countering terrorism and enhancing cross-border security,” Dory said.
She added: “We engage with the three governments on a bilateral basis every 12 to18 months to ensure our shared security goals are aligned and US government security assistance is prioritised accordingly”.
All three countries are feeling the effects of terrorism and growing violent extremism.
In Tunisia, the military deserves credit for supporting and protecting the population during the country’s democratic transition, Dory said. US assistance to the security sector focuses on counter-terrorism support, border security training and a continuation of long-standing US foreign military financing and international military education and training programmes.
Algeria remains a critical security partner in countering regional violent extremist organisations, according to Dory.
“Its strategic location in the Maghreb and its long history of combating domestic terrorism and violent extremism makes Algeria a linchpin in the struggle against al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates and bringing stability to the region. The January 2013 terrorist attack against the In-Amenas oil facility highlighted the growing transnational threats in the region.”
The US Department of Defence continues to expand engagement with Algeria in co-operation with other US government departments and agencies across a range of activities to include information sharing and exercises.
Morocco’s King Mohammed VI has recognised for years that democratic political and economic reforms are needed in his country.
“During the Arab Awakening he continued to respond to popular demands for change from within Moroccan society,” Dory said of Morocco’s king. “The US and the Kingdom of Morocco share a long history of bilateral relations that is enduring and expansive.”
A major non-NATO ally, Morocco, “has been a strong partner in the struggle against terrorism, and our bilateral military and political co-operation is growing,” according to her.