By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, March 7, 2013 – Somalia and Mali represent different stages of the challenges for U.S. Africa Command, Army Gen. Carter F. Ham told the Senate Armed Services Committee today.
Ham, who will step down as Africom commander next month, said the five-year-old command has increased operational capabilities and capacities and has worked to build and focus security cooperation on the continent.
“Our approach seeks to address the near-term threats to our national security while simultaneously building partnerships and fostering regional cooperation which contribute to achieving longer-term U.S. objectives in Africa,” he said.
Africa has been a mixed bag in recent years, with positive steps in Somalia and security challenges in Mali.
Along with allies in East Africa, Africom developed a strategy that has seriously weakened the terror group al-Shabaab, Ham said. “Somalia still faces significant political, economic and security challenges, but the Somali people now have something they haven't had for a very long time: hope for a better future,” he added. “And I'm proud that we've played a role in that.”
In Central Africa, African troops, advised and assisted by U.S. Army Special Forces personnel, have achieved some significant tactical gains against the Lord’s Resistance Army and its leader, Joseph Kony. “Today, we are seeing increased levels of LRA defections, fewer LRA attacks, and enhanced cooperation between the military forces in the region,” the general told the Senate panel.
Africom also is working with nations and regional groups in the Gulf of Guinea to boost cooperation against pirates, smuggling and illegal trafficking, Ham said.
Such security initiatives illustrate what can be achieved through an Africa-led endeavor to which America provides support and logistical capabilities, he said, and this same approach could be key to establishing peace and stability in Mali. The command has supported French and African allies’ efforts in northern Mali and is sharing intelligence and providing some transportation to forces opposing al-Qaida in the Islamic Mahgreb, he said.
But while the increasing willingness of many African partners to actively address shared threats is encouraging, the general told the panel, other trends in the region are deeply concerning. Terror groups in West and North Africa are increasingly working together, he noted.
“The loss of four Americans in Libya and three more in Algeria underscores the threat presented by this growing network,” Ham said.
The terror groups individually pose threats to the region, he said, but their increasing collaboration increases the danger they present collectively.
“I'm convinced that if left unchecked,” Ham added, “this network will develop into one that poses a greater and more imminent threat to U.S. interests.”
Stopping the spread of these groups is the command’s top priority, the general said. “At the same time, we're tasked to focus on prevention through a very active partnership strategy,” he said. “It remains clear that Africans must solve Africa’s problems.”
And it is in this area that fiscal challenges will hurt the most, Ham said.
“I’m concerned about the impacts resulting from the combined effects of sequestration and a continuing resolution,” the general told the senators. “We’ve already had to make difficult decisions based on the availability of funds, such as reducing reconnaissance flights.”
Budget reductions will cut theater security cooperation engagements and will reduce important joint and combined exercises, Ham said. The cuts, possible cuts and threatened cuts mean uncertainty in both the military ranks and in Africom’s civilian workforce, he added.
“They are not sure what to expect of their government,” Ham said.
Civilian employees face furloughs, he noted, and military personnel and their families face the question of whether Congress will sustain programs.
“I don’t think we yet understand what effect this uncertainty may have in the recruiting and retention of our civilian workforce, and perhaps even more importantly, on the recruiting and retention of what I think is the crown jewel in all of this, and that's the sustainment of the incredibly talented all-volunteer force we have,” he said. “I think there are a lot more unknowns right now than knowns.”
The command is looking at new ways to address the many challenges in Africa, Ham said. “The Army's regionally aligned force, Navy's Africa Partnership Station, and the Air Force counterpart, Africa Partnership Flight, are programs the services have purposely designed to help us achieve our objectives,” he said. “We look forward to the capabilities of the Marine Corps’ new Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force, which will bring improvements in our crisis-response capabilities.”
Ham commended Africom’s service members and civilians as he prepares to turn over the command to Army Gen. David M. Rodriguez.
“It will be my privilege to see him lead the women and men of United States Africa Command well into the future,” he said.