al-Qaeda Africa posing a global security problem: Africom

US Africa Command (Africom) says al-Qaeda has dramatically increased its influence over north and east Africa over the last three years – and this poses a possible global security threat.
Testifying before the US Senate Armed Services Committee for the first time since Africom achieved unified command Status in October General William “Kip” Ward – according to the South African Broadcasting Corporation – said the vast unmonitored coast areas in east and north Africa are providing havens for criminal activity and terrorists.
He also heard concerns from a number of US senators, including the Republican John McCain who noted that the “1998 bombings of our embassies in Tanzania and Kenya did much to remind us that our interests are intertwined with events in Africa and each year the distance between us seems to grow shorter.”
Democratic Party senator Carl Levin said “the terrorism threat from Africa, particularly the potential for havens and recruiting, for terrorists in ungoverned or under-governed areas are cause for deep concern.”
This concern was not evident in official US reports of the briefing. The Africom website put a positive spin on the briefing, highlighting Ward`s view that Africa as a whole is on course in reducing conflict, building democratic institutions, and promoting sustainable livelihood for its people.
According to Ward Africom has fine-tuned strategies and programmes over the past year based on discussions with dozens of senior political and military leaders from across Africa.
This “listening and learning” approach “allows them to respond appropriately to the needs of African partners and to tailor programs and activities to best meet each nation’s individual needs”, he said.
“The common message from most of them (African leaders) is their desire to develop a security infrastructure at the national, regional, and continental levels with legitimate and professional security forces and organizations,” Ward wrote in an introduction of his prepared testimony.
Africom assists leaders in meeting their security goals through a variety of military-to-military programs which focus on conflict and crisis prevention, rather than reaction. This long-term approach, called “sustained security engagement,” helps African militaries to increase their capabilities and capacity to provide for their own security.
“Africa is a complex environment requiring a new and different approach. Its unique challenges demand a long-term rather than a near-term focus,” Ward stressed.

During the testimony, Ward also described the challenging political environment in Africa, noting enduring conflicts, illicit trafficking, territorial disputes, rebel insurgencies, violent extremists, piracy, and illegal immigration as some of the continent’s greatest security threats.

Ward’s previous testimony took place one year ago on 13 March 2008 when he first presented his goals and strategies for US Africa Command to the House Armed Services Committee.

Since that time, the command has officially been established as the 6th US regional command, taking control of 172 missions, activities, programs, and exercises, which were previously divided among European Command, Central Command (Middle East), and US Pacific Command.
Stars & Stripes, an official US military publication, adds Africom, which should boast about 1300 personnel by this summer, will likely stay based in Stuttgart for another five years.
“We will benefit from the stability of staying in one location where we can polish out operational processes, cement our relationships with our partners on and off the continent and consolidate our gains,” Ward said.
Military officials have for the last two years discussed basing options in Africa, but resistance from governments there prompted the Germany decision.
“As time goes by, I`m sure we`ll revisit the location,” Ward said. “But right now it does not affect our capacity to reach out.”
Africom has two forward operational sites — one at Ascension Island, a British island dependency located 1000 miles off the west coast of Africa, and another at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti — as well as cooperative agreements with several sites under control of Eucom and Centcom.