Washington — Extremist groups collaborating in Africa pose a threat beyond the region that extends to Europe and the United States, U.S. Africa Command's top military officer said here today.
Countering violent extremists is a growing challenge for Africom, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham told an audience at George Washington University.
The al-Qaida affiliated terror group al-Shabab is active in Somalia, though it is being dealt with, Ham said, and lawlessness in Libya is attracting another terror group, al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb. That group continues to operate in northern Mali, which Ham calls a "haven" for terrorists.
In Nigeria, the militant group Boko Haram has claimed responsibility for a series of terrorist attacks in recent months. Ham emphasized that these groups and others signal the importance of Africa Command in countering extremists on the continent.
But although those individual organizations are "dangerous and important," Ham said, his biggest worry is a growing linkage and network of collaboration and synchronization among them. That, he added, "poses the greatest threat to regional stability more broadly across Africa, into Europe and the United States as well."
Africom stood up Oct. 1, 2008, and is the newest geographic command. Ham said the command's mission is to advance the national security interests of the United States in Africa. "We think we do that best by strengthening the defense capabilities of African nations so they are increasingly capable of providing not only for their own security, but contributing to regional security and stability as well," he said.
Africa Command has taken direct action on the continent, as demonstrated last year by the U.S. effort in the skies over Libya to protect civilians there from forces loyal to Moammar Gadhafi. "But we think we are at our best when we are supporting and enabling African nations and African regional organizations to achieve their ends," the general added.
That African officials are best able to confront and surmount African challenges is a mantra for Africom, Ham said, noting that his command is best known on the continent for training African forces and providing enabling technologies.
The defense strategic guidance announced earlier this year gave pause to many on the continent, Ham acknowledged, because of its focus on the Asia-Pacific region. "There was, by my count, one mention of the word Africa" in the document, he said. But he noted the guidance includes more than the Asia-Pacific focus.
"The focus on the Pacific makes sense, but rather than focus on the geographic priorities, take a look at the mission sets that are outlined in the strategic defense guidance," he said. At the top of the list is countering extremist organizations. Next is maintaining global access, followed by building partner capacity. U.S. forces must be ready to contribute to humanitarian and disaster relief missions and to prevent and respond to mass atrocities, the general said.
"All these, sadly, are necessary in Africa," he added.