13 September 2017

Africa: Remarks by Africom Commander at the USIP Program on U.S.-African Partnerships


Washington, DC — Prepared remarks by General Thomas Waldhauser, Commander of U.S. Africa Command, at the United States Institue for Peace Program on 'U.S.-African Partnerships: Advancing Common Interests'

Good afternoon, Ladies and Gentlemen.

It is great to be here again among friends and colleagues, and it is a privilege to be in the company of so many senior officials and distinguished experts.

Dr. David Chu and the Institute of Defense Analyses: I appreciate the invitation to speak with you today. Ms. Nancy Lindborg and the US Institute of Peace: thank you for hosting today's event. I appreciate the dialogue and discussion this morning, and I also thank you for allowing me to share some thoughts over lunch.

At the outset, I would simply like to say that the men and women of AFRICOM -- including our service components and interagency partners -- are dedicated to tackling the many challenges on the African continent each and every day.

We are all very fortunate to have these fine people serving our nation and the people of Africa.

This afternoon, I will focus my comments on two broad subject areas, and hopefully make this engagement useful to you.  If there is time and interest, I will be happy to take a few questions.Clearly, there are many topics I could address this afternoon.  However, I chose two that I thought would be worthwhile.

The first topic will focus on The United States Africa Command, and specifically our ongoing efforts to support political solutions in Libya and Somalia.  The second topic will look at our strategic approach, alongside allies and partners, primarily in capacity building and development.


Let me begin briefly with some background.

Ten years ago, US Africa Command was established as a standalone Combatant Command in the US Department of Defense, with the overarching purpose of fostering our long-term, strategic national interests in Africa.

Ten years ago, many of you were already working on policy and matters in Africa. You may remember there was quite a bit of discussion about how AFRICOM would complement and reinforce broader US Government engagement.

Since then, AFRICOM has made great strides over this brief period, maturing into an organization viewed by many today as "value added" to the challenges we face.

In this first decade of service, the Command has contributed significantly to our national interests by working closely with various countries' national governments, and by building trust with partner nation militaries.

Our mission statement describes our three main tasks: to build defense capabilities, respond to crisis, and deter and defeat transnational threats.

As you might expect, the last of these, to deter and defeat transnational threats, is something we focus a good deal of our attention on.

So, I would like to begin this afternoon by talking with you about Libya, as this has been a top priority for AFRICOM for the past year.

Our discussion will show how US military operations are only a small part -- and by no means the only part -- of our strategic approach in Africa.


In 2016, Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj publicly and privately requested assistance from the US and our European allies to rid the country of ISIS-Libya, which had seized territory and established a foothold in the western coastal city of Surt.

ISIS had, for several years, imposed their oppressive will on the citizens and destabilized an already fragile economy.

Over the course of about 5 months in 2016, AFRICOM assisted Libyan forces aligned to the Government of National Accord.  US forces provided expertise and niche capability assistance, such as advanced technology for Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance.

Moreover, our accurate and consistent Close Air Support augmented ground forces with a much-needed capability.

In all, we conducted over 500 precision strikes around the city of Surt.  In doing so, we supported the United Nations-brokered Government of National Accord and the militias who did the very heavy lifting in the restricted terrain and urban confines during the battle over Surt.

Between AFRICOM, our US Ambassador and Country Team, and the fledgling Government, we established a strategic and trusting relationship based on the shared vison of a peaceful political resolution -- led and implemented by the Libyans themselves.

Our assistance had two important effects.

First of all, it caused our Libyan military partners to redouble their efforts and sustain the fight, in spite of heavy casualties.  All of the partners focused their efforts around the common goal to expel ISIS from Surt.

Second, by putting the remaining elements of ISIS on the run in the remote deserts, we bought time for the Sarraj Government to take on a stronger leadership role, as the United Nations had intended.

Now, we are focused on continuing to support the GNA; to keep the pressure on the counter-terrorism fight primarily against ISIS; to work to open a line of communication with General Khalifa Haftar, the leading figure with the rival Libyan National Army, and last but not least, to work to prevent an all-out civil war in the country.

Again, all of these efforts are geared toward a political solution in Libya.  Our work there illustrates how the military instrument of power can be engaged as an element of statecraft, and in support of a strategic framework, to make positive contributions.

Let me illustrate another example.

This past June, in support of our Ambassador's efforts to reaffirm US commitment to a political solution in Libya, we provided the necessary security for him to fly into Tripoli, where we visibly demonstrated US presence and continued the dialogue.

This was the first time in nearly five years that senior US officials were on the ground in Libya.  Without overstating the case, this was a significant event, especially in the eyes of the Libyan people and the GNA.

As the Libyans turn their attention to ongoing concerns, such as bringing oil production back on line, we will continue working with the international community and other US agencies such as USAID to foster their stability.

We will also continue to monitor transnational trends.

As ISIS comes under increasing pressure in Iraq and Syria, some fighters continue to attempt to establish a foothold in Libya.  And while each day without civil war is a day of peace, a number of questions remain about how Libya will sustain this peace and move forward.

•             How will Prime Minister Sarraj gain and maintain his support throughout the country?

•             Will General Haftar attempt to move to Tripoli and take it by force?

•             How will the efforts of the Egyptians, Europeans, and Russians influence the future?

•             Will they hold democratic elections in 2018, as both Sarraj and Haftar have stated they support?

•             How will recently assigned UN Secretary General Ghassan Salamé make a difference?

•             How should AFRICOM best support Libya's neighbors and the multinational coalition known as the Sahel G5 as they work to protect their borders from terrorism and trafficking emanating from Libya?

I could go on.  But, as this story unfolds in the days and months ahead, the message from AFRICOM is that we are working hard to ensure the military tool is in step with, and supporting the political process.  And while the US can help, the resolution must come from the Libyans themselves.


Somalia is another example of our military efforts in support of a national government -- in this case, of the recently-elected Federal Government of Somalia.

From next door in Djibouti and inside Mogadishu, we are working closely with our embassy and country team to ensure our military actions support President Farmajo's strategy to defeat Al-Shabaab and allow for the Federal Government to eventually take over security requirements for the country.

Incidentally, as most of you know, Farmajo is a nickname for Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed.  He holds US citizenship, completed a degree in political science at the University of Buffalo, and worked for several years at the New York State Department of Transportation.

This January, he became President in the first elections in nearly two decades, and he is making every effort to strike the right balance with the tribal and clan dynamics in order to establish a legitimate federal government.

I have had the opportunity to engage with President Farmajo on several occasions over the past several months.  He is fully aware of the challenges he faces, and he is fiercely committed to making the Federal Government relevant for the people of Somalia.

I also accompanied Secretary of Defense Mattis when he attended the London Conference on Somalia with leaders from the international community.

The purpose of the meeting was to accelerate progress on security sector reform, build on the international response to the ongoing drought and humanitarian crisis, and agree on the new international partnership needed to keep Somalia on course for increased peace and prosperity by 2020.

Additionally, at this conference, President Farmajo unveiled his National Security Framework for a National Army, Police, and Federal and State security forces, with the intention of providing for the country's overall security.

AFRICOM's efforts are a component of the Federal Government of Somalia's commitment.

We are focused on coordinating and synchronizing international military assistance through the Somali-led strategy, called the "Comprehensive Approach to Security."

We also partner with the Somali National Army and provide training, advice, and equipment as they continue to develop their counter-terrorism expertise.

This past spring, we recognized the need for our operations to cover greater distances in a country the size of the entire US eastern seaboard.

Accordingly, we have been given enhanced authorization to keep up the pressure on the Al-Shabaab network, which continues to conduct terrorist attacks on Somali citizens.

We have used this authority in a very judicious but aggressive manner -- with the intention of providing legitimacy and support for President Farmajo and his government.

This is the first time in many years in Somalia where our military kinetic actions are specifically linked to a strategy of a Federal Government.  This is a very important point, and again, provides a roadmap to use the military tool in support of overarching diplomatic objectives.

Recently, we assisted the Somalis through our intelligence collection capabilities as they facilitated the defection of Muktar Robow, a former top leader in Al-Shabaab.

In a significant boost to President Farmajo's leadership, Robow publicly swore allegiance to the FGS and said he was committed to taking down Al-Shabaab.

This particular defection offers some important insights.

First, the Somalis led each aspect of the Robow Defection operation, overcoming friction and hurdles along the way which in the past might have derailed their progress.

Second, they are now in a position to leverage this tactical victory for strategic effect.  We can help them get the message out and encourage more Al-Shabaab fighters to disarm, defect, and take advantage of President Farmajo's reconciliation initiative.

This has been made the widely known through an information campaign that encourages education and jobs for the former Al-Shabaab members who pledge their support to the FGS.

Overall, by facilitating improvements in security conditions, our military efforts support the Somali strategy for stable governance and a stronger economy, as well as the objective of holding democratic elections in 2021.

So again, a legitimate federal government, elected by the Somali people, provides the framework and legitimacy for our military assistance.

In sum, I hope you can see the common thread throughout our efforts in Libya, Somalia, as well as across the continent, is a collaborative approach with the African nations in the lead.  We believe this is the best way to make the greatest contribution toward peaceful solutions.

A core tenet of AFRICOM's strategic framework is a commitment to the use of the military instrument of power not on its own, but in support of US diplomatic and development efforts.

In fact, very few if any of the challenges the US faces in Africa can be resolved via military force as the primary agent.

Instead, our strategy places an emphasis on US military capabilities employed in a supporting role with nations that have compatible objectives.

By, With, and Through

I would like to transition to my second main topic this afternoon, which will explore capacity building and development, and I will begin with the idea of working with our partner nations in the framework of "By, With, and Through" at the operational and strategic levels.

Let me talk briefly with you about how we broadly conceptualize this approach.

First, security operations are conducted almost exclusively By the partner nation's security forces, and specifically not American service members.

  • Events in Burkina Faso provide a very good example of this concept.  In January 2016, a group of terrorists attacked a hotel and a held a number of hostages.  The government received criticism for the slow response and appearance of relying on Western forces to resolve the situation.
  • Since then, the Burkinabe counter-terrorism forces continued to train with AFRICOM to handle the expanding threat of extremists.
  • A few weeks ago, a group of armed men attacked another hotel, and in this real-world test of their readiness, the Burkinabe security forces quickly responded.  They effectively mitigated the situation. 
  • What is interesting is that in the process, they turned down offers of assistance from a US military medical team and from a French counter-terrorism force. 
  • When we compare these two attacks 18 months apart, we can see how Burkina Faso has successfully enhanced their abilities to handle emerging security challenges.  AFRICOM has served in an enabling role to this progress, and by doing so, we also support President Roch Marc Kaboré's stated priority of bolstering national security. 

In terms of the second element of the "By, With, and Through" framework, AFRICOM works With these forces based on their requests and their needs.  Our efforts may include training, advising, and assisting where we have specific capabilities or high-end technology which the partnered forces lack.  In other instances, we help with equipment or education programs.

  • A good example is in Tunisia, where the leaders of the defense forces are steadily transforming their military into an agile counter-terrorism force. 
  • Through the National Guard State Partnership Program, soldiers from Wyoming have worked with their Tunisian counterparts on an ongoing and consistent basis. 
  • One of their collaborative initiatives established an academy for professionally developing the Tunisian non-commissioned officers.  This type of relationship supports our aligned objectives for the long-term growth of their defense forces.

In the third element of AFRICOM's strategic framework, the compatible strategic objectives of both the US and the partnered nation are achieved Through a cooperative relationship in which AFRICOM plays a supporting role.

  • A couple of months ago, severe storms caused damage to the Chadian Air Force aircraft and hangar facilities.  In a country about the same size as Alaska, their air mobility is vital to maintain border security and to conduct resupply missions. 
  • However, Chad is a poor country with limited flexibility to meet unanticipated expenses.  And by the way, Chad is a vital partner and member of the Multinational Joint Task Force protecting civilians from Violent Extremist Organizations operating in the region. 
  • The US does have the means to assist Chad, and by stepping in and providing assistance to repair facilities destroyed in the storm, we are helping them keep up their efforts to maintain regional security.

In sum, this framework of "By, With, and Through" rests on 2 key elements.

First, US and partner nation strategic objectives are compatible and aligned, and second, the operations are conducted primarily by the partner nation forces with the US in a supporting role.

African leaders often tell us how important it is to develop "African solutions to African problems."

We can appreciate how difficult it is for a proud nation to accept help from outsiders.  The concept of "By, With, and Through" recognizes the importance of host nation ownership and of fostering enduring relationships based on trust.

At the same time, AFRICOM's interests are fully vested in the "3D Approach" of Diplomacy, Development, and Defense to synchronize our efforts and make the most of our collective talents.

In addition, we work alongside our allies -- from our historic Western allies to non-traditional partners in Africa such as Turkey and the UAE -- and members of the European Union, African Union, and the United Nations.

All that said, our greatest investment is in the long-term objective of enhancing the capacity of our partner nation defense forces, ideally with our partners and through a whole-of-government approach.  This tenet reflects our view that prevention is always better than intervention.

Over the course of a year, we conduct some 3,500 exercises, programs, and engagements.  These tailored efforts span a range, from training soldiers who serve as medics to exercises at sea to respond to piracy.

For example, we recently conducted an exercise named AFRICAN ENDEAVOR, which focuses on cybersecurity and communications.

This year's event, hosted by the Malawi Defense Forces, brought together a truly diverse group, representing 42 African countries, experts from businesses including Microsoft and Barclays Bank, academic organizations and training centers such as the UN Signal School, and even the Dutch Computer Emergency Response Team.

AFRICAN ENDEAVOR focused on how to improve communication between various organizations and countries during peacekeeping and disaster response operations.

The focus on cybersecurity also created an opportunity in an area we all need to improve upon.

This type of exercise and the accomplishments of the 5-to-6,000 US service members working on the continent every day will not necessarily make headlines around the globe.

Nevertheless, the bottom line is that day in and day out, these efforts proactively and consistently build the capacity of our partners to protect their own citizens and respond to crises and threats.

Chinese Activities in Africa

Before I conclude, let me take a brief moment to discuss China on the continent and the opportunities we have with them as we move forward.

China has completed significant and much-needed infrastructure projects as a part of its "One Belt, One Road" strategy -- which it likens to a modern day Silk Road connecting markets worldwide.

Trade between China and Africa in 2016 is estimated to be valued at over $300 billion dollars.  Before the United Nations in September 2015, President Xi announced $100 million in aid to the African Union and to supporting UN peacekeeping missions with an additional 8,000 police officers.

This investment has the capacity to transform the African continent, improving households, livelihoods, and macro-economies.

Better ports, better roads, better railways, better power grids -- these are all desperately needed.

The Chinese also recently completed construction of their first overseas military base, located a few kilometers from US facilities in Djibouti.  And as you would expect, this presents unique challenges and opportunities found nowhere else in the world.

This summer, China assigned the first soldiers to this base and expressed interest in conducting amphibious training between Chinese and US Marines.

Across the continent, we have shared interests in African stability.  We see many areas where we can cooperate with the Chinese military.  For example, we both support UN peacekeeping missions and training with African defense forces.

The fact that we have mutual interests in Africa means that we can and should cooperate.

This fact does not obscure the reality of fundamental policy differences.

However, these differences are not insurmountable.

Earlier this year, Secretary Mattis pointed out, "Our two countries can and do cooperate for mutual benefit.  And we will pledge to work closely with China where we share common cause."

In sum, our goal is to work with China in Africa as fellow stakeholders in peace, security, and stability on the continent.

In closing

This afternoon, I hope I have given you a better sense of how AFRICOM approaches the three tasks I described in our mission statement: to build partner capacity, respond to crisis, and deter and defeat transnational threats.

When we consider how Africa will need an estimated 20 million new jobs each year to keep pace with the growing population, we realize how compelling the reasons are to work together to create the conditions for those jobs, of course, and also hope for the future.

Today's Symposium certainly accelerates our understanding of how all of us, and the organizations we represent, can develop our best thinking and most innovative approaches.  Let me close by thanking USIP and IDA for this opportunity.  It has been an honor to be with such a distinguished group, and I will now turn the floor over to you for discussion.


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