By Amaani Lyle
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 18, 2013 – As new concerns arise with the persistence of al-Qaida in the Middle East and Northern Africa, a senior Pentagon official told Congress yesterday that the Defense Department will continue to sculpt innovative, small-footprint, low-cost solutions to achieve defense goals.
In a hearing before the House Armed Services Committee’s subcommittee on intelligence, emerging threats and capabilities, Michael A. Sheehan, assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflict, reported on strategies that ensure the special operations community is ideally tailored, structured and trained for its mission.
Sheehan told the House panel that the most significant threats remain in the Afghanistan-Pakistan region and continue burgeoning in Yemen, where terrorist cells have tried to secure their hub.
“As we look around the world where al-Qaida pops its head, or we see terrorism even in our own streets in Boston, … those two traditional strongholds remain of constant concern for our community,” he said. Direct and lethal action in the U.S. counterterrorism strategy, building partner capacity and denying sanctuary to terrorists are the underpinnings of the new approach, he added.
“In Yemen, we conduct action there to take down al-Qaida leadership [and] work with the host country to build their capacity so they can conduct the job within their territory,” Sheehan said. “We also work with them to deny space for al-Qaida. All three aspects of the strategy come together in Yemen and … have been very successful in the last year and a half, particular with the … new Hadi regime.”
These aspects come together to form a cohesive counterterrorism strategy in different parts of the world, Sheehan said.
Since the collapse of Northern Mali and the intervention there by al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, Sheehan described “torrid rebellion” and a new threat compounded by the instability of the Arab Spring.
“The instability in Libya after the fall of [Moammar] Gadhafi and the flow of the weapons that create a confluence of factors in Northern Mali [are] of great concern,” Sheehan said. The French are leading an effort there to try to put that situation back on track, he added.
In Syria, Sheehan continued, worries stem from the Al-Nusrah Front, particularly its clear al-Qaida affiliation, its links to other al-Qaida organizations, and its potential as an ominous threat to the U.S. homeland.
Sheehan also described efforts in Somalia, where U.S. forces are building partner capacity to deny space for al-Qaida sanctuary.
Aspects of the model strategy also will apply in Mali, Sheehan said. He described a combination of the French taking lead with U.S. support, assistance to partner nations and work with the United Nations to move in behind the French, occupy key towns and deny the space to al-Qaida.
Congressionally provided authorities have enabled the United States to build the capacity of its partners, execute strategies, and support the U.N. and other nation states that provide security, he added.
“If we can get these authorities right, [we can] continue to modify them and fine-tune them to enable us to be even more effective in the years ahead and … crush al-Qaida capability around the world, like we've successfully done for the last 11 years,” Sheehan said.