By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 10, 2013 – As al-Qaida affiliates seek sanctuary in North Africa and the Middle East, the United States must continue to take decisive action and help partners improve their capacity to thwart terrorist organizations, a senior Pentagon official said yesterday on Capitol Hill.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee’s emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee, Michael A. Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, praised the special operations community for continually targeting key al-Qaida leadership and networks within countries of varying capabilities.
The United States “cannot allow al-Qaida to have sanctuary with impunity,” Sheehan said. “A year ago, if I testified from here, I would’ve been talking about al-Qaida controlling massive swaths of territory in Yemen … and Somalia. In both cases, they’ve been rolled back,” he added.
Components of the U.S. strategy involve developing innovative, low-cost and “small-footprint” approaches to achieve security objectives, Sheehan explained.
“The task of training, advising and partnering with foreign military security forces has moved from the periphery to become a critical skill set across our armed services,” Sheehan said.
In Yemen, Sheehan said, multinational forces worked with Yemenis to roll back al-Qaida. And in Somalia, which has no functioning government, the United States worked with the African Union in a United Nations peacekeeping operation to eject terrorists.
“The French have pushed [al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb] out of the major cities in north Mali, and we’re working to create a U.N. operation to follow that,” he said.
Sheehan told the senators that legislation authorizing training and equipping of host-nation forces, particularly in Yemen and East Africa, has been “fundamental” for the United States in successfully building antiterrorism capacity during efforts targeting al-Qaida over the past year.
In Syria, Sheehan said, al-Qaida in Iraq’s network, operating under the name al-Nusrah Front, has sought to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime.
“Al-Nusrah Front is, in fact, an attempt by [al-Qaida in Iraq] to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes, attempting to establish an al-Qaida-governed state in the region,” he said.