World

June 19, 2012

Africa presents opportunity, challenges

Tags:
by Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, commander of U.S. Africa Command during a March 9, 2011, address near Stuttgart, Germany.

For decades, Africa was arguably the most overlooked continent on the globe, with U.S. military involvement there shared among three combatant commands and engagement activities episodic at best.

But five years since the standup of U.S. Africa Command, its commander called Africa a land of great opportunity, but he also said the continent presents threats not only to the immediate region, but to the United States and its interests as well.

“There are a lot of reasons why Africa matters to the United States,” Army Gen. Carter F. Ham said during a recent interview with American Forces Press Service at his headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.

Opportunity abounds on the continent, with some of the world’s fastest-growing economies and a young, vibrant and growing population that’s already topped a billion people, he noted. Meanwhile, Africa is experiencing growing democratization, with Africans increasingly choosing their own governments in a way that contributes to both regional and continental stability.

But amid these positive developments, Ham cited some negative trends he said have the potential to impact the security of America and its partners and allies.

Topping the list of why Africa matters to the United States, he said, is the presence of violent extremist organizations “that have very clearly articulated an intent to attack the United States, its allies, its citizens and its interests both within Africa and also more broadly, in Europe.”

Africom’s headquarters became fully operational in 2008, a decade after the near-simultaneous Aug. 7, 1998, terrorist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Nairobi, Kenya. The years since then have witnessed additional terrorist activity, particularly in the Horn of Africa and Pan-Sahel regions.

Wide, ungoverned and under-governed spaces have proven to be fertile ground for violent extremism, Ham said. To the east, the al-Shabab terrorist organization announced in February that it had officially joined forces with al Qaeda’s senior leaders. Meanwhile, an al Qaeda affiliate known as al Qaeda in the Lands of the Islamic Maghreb is working to undermine the rule of law and governments in North and West Africa, particularly the trans-Sahara region, with a goal of establishing an Islamic caliphate there.

More recently, a violent group known as Boko Haram has begun extending its influence in Northern Nigeria as it challenges the Nigerian central government.

“While each of those three organizations is of concern, the greatest concern to me is the apparent intent of those organizations to find ways where they can collaborate, cooperate and synchronize their efforts,” Ham said.

It’s a concern he shared with Congress in February. “If they are able to coordinate their efforts, share funding, training, weapons exchange and what have you, I think that presents a real challenge for us,” he told the House Armed Services Committee.

Preventing a merger of these like-minded organizations is a major focus of Africom as it works hand-in-hand with African partners every day through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities and other operations aimed at promoting a stable, secure Africa, the general said.

“To counter the threat posed by these three organizations, we do work by, with and through … the host-nation forces to increase their capability,” Ham told the House panel. “There are some times where it may be appropriate for U.S. forces to act,” he said, citing U.S. and NATO actions in Libya as an example. “But more generally, we’re better off when it is Africans leading with a bit of training and support [and] equipping from us.”

Ham underscored U.S. Africa Command’s most fundamental mission: “to advance the security interests of the United States, in our case, particularly in Africa.”

“Our primary role is to protect America, Americans and American interests from the threats that might emanate from the continent of Africa,” he said.

Doing so, Ham said, involves strengthening the capabilities of individual African states and regional organizations so they ultimately can provide their own security.

President Barack Obama, on visiting Ghana in 2009, recognized what’s been one of Africom’s guiding principles: that Africans themselves are best able to address African security challenges.

“The shorthand for that is, ‘African solutions to African problems,” Ham said. “We recognize that. And we try to abide by that in all that we do. So our efforts are taken largely by, with, and through our African partners,” with Africom and its service components almost always playing a supporting or “enabling” role.

“We train, we advise, we assist. Sometimes we provide equipment, but all in an effort to try to enable the Africans to address problems on their own,” he continued. “It is their region, it is their continent and while it is certainly in our interest for that continent to be stable, it is better if the Africans decide when and how to do that.”

Since taking command in March 2010, Ham said he’s been struck by the sense of optimism among the African partners he meets.

“They recognize the challenge they face, and they are realistic about that,” he said. “But they also have this sense that they are going to overcome those challenges and move forward.”




All of this week's top headlines to your email every Friday.


 
 

 

Ukraine plans $3 billion boost to defense spending

KIEV, Ukraine – Ukraine’s president announced plans Aug. 24 to boost his country’s defense spending by an estimated 50 percent as government forces seek to overpower pro-Russian separatists in the east. President Petro Poroshenko pledged to spend an extra 40 billion hryvnia ($3 billion) by 2017 during a speech marking Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet...
 
 

Iran unveils new short-range missiles, drones

Iran unveiled a new generation of short-range marine missiles and aerial drones Aug. 24, as President Hassan Rouhani said its military doctrine was based on deterring and countering threats from unnamed foreign powers. The official IRNA news agency said the Ghadir missile, with a range of 100 kilometers (62 miles), is designed to destroy marine...
 
 

NATO ups military presence amid Russian threat

NATO is strengthening its military footprint along its eastern border immediately in response to Russia’s aggression in Ukraine, the alliance’s chief said April 16. Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said NATO’s air policing aircraft will fly more sorties over the Baltic region west of Ukraine, far from the tensions in the eastern part of the...
 

 

Ukrainian officers join NATO drills in Bulgaria

NOVO SELO, Bulgaria – Lt. Col. Valeria Parada had a challenge. She and her team were responsible for rescuing people caught up in a dangerous situation around the Black Sea and making sure they received whatever humanitarian assistance they needed. To do that, she first had to learn how to coordinate among the air, navy...
 
 

Republic of Korea Selects Lockheed Martin F-35A Lightning II

The Republic of Korea has formally selected the Lockheed Martin ) F-35 Lightning II aircraft for its F-X fighter acquisition program.  “We are honored by and appreciate the trust and confidence the Republic of Korea has placed in the 5th Generation F-35 to meet its demanding security requirements. We look forward to supporting the discussions between...
 
 

U.S. will beef up air operations in Poland

More U.S. F-16 Fighting Falcons will deploy to Poland in the coming days and weeks, a Pentagon official said March 10. Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel and Polish Defense Minister Tomasz Siemoniak spoke yesterday, and Siemoiniak thanked the secretary for looking at options for basing, said Army Col. Steve Warren, a Pentagon spokesman. “No decision [have been...
 




0 Comments


Be the first to comment!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>