By Jim Garamone DoD News, Defense Media Activity
CAMP LEMONNIER, Djibouti, December 6, 2015 — The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has grown since 2014, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said here today, and it is important that the United States and coalition partners continue to put pressure on the terror organization across all domains and with every facet of government.
Marine Corps Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr. is on a multiday, three-continent trip, visiting American forces along with the 2015 USO Holiday Troupe.
In addition to meeting deployed American troops, Dunford was briefed on the situation in the Horn of Africa and U.S. efforts to help African nations bring stability to the region.
Violent extremists are “absolutely planning to conduct operations against the United States,” the chairman said in an interview with reporters. “What we are trying to do here is keep pressure on the outside the United States so they are unable to threaten our interests or the American people.”
Dunford has stressed many times that there are nine lines of effort against the terror group, and only two of them are entirely DoD responsibilities. It is important to have “the right capabilities and capacities inside the joint force to keep pressure on [ISIL] … to make sure we are playing an away game and not a home game,” he said.
ISIL is a global threat and the United States cannot counter that threat alone, the chairman said. “We need partners and allies to assist us in doing that. ... One thing we do is build partnership capacity in nations so they can deal with the threat within their own borders,” Dunford said.
“So, with a small number of Americans we can enable large numbers of indigenous forces to take the fight to the enemy,” he continued.
Camp Lemonnier Mission
Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa, headquartered here, is the spearhead for this effort. Around 4,000 service members are assigned to the task force at any one time. The mission, according to Army Maj. Gen. Mark Stammer, the CJTF-HOA commander, is to counter violent extremists through partner-building efforts.
Djibouti sits on a number of the region’s geopolitical fault lines, Stammer said in an interview. “We’re in Africa, but the Arabian Peninsula is right across the Bab el-Mandeb Strait [and] we’re on a religious fault line between Christianity and the Islamic community,” he said.
While there is some spillover from the conflict in Yemen, the biggest terrorist threat comes over land from Somalia in the form of al-Shabab, the general said. “While al-Shabab’s strength and ability to project are waning, they still have intent and capability to harm us. I don’t believe they have the ability to wage a long campaign, but they can definitely hurt people as they have demonstrated in Somalia,” Stammer said.
The main way the command works with African nations at the moment is through the African Union Mission in Somalia, or Amisom. Djibouti, Burundi, Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda have partnered in the peacekeeping mission in Somalia.
There have been setbacks, such as when al-Shabab launched terror attacks in Kenya, Uganda and Burundi, Stammer said. But there have been successes, too, the general noted. In July, a combined force of Somalia National Army, Kenyans and Ethiopians liberated the cities of the Jubba river valley, which had been under al-Shabab control for eight years. “They not only liberated it, but held it,” he said.
This deprives al-Shabab of revenue from the area and has freed up legitimate commerce for Somali citizens, Stammer said.
Efforts Starting to Pay Off
The nations of the region see the improvements and are continuing their efforts at creating stability, the general said. “I visit the troops’ contributing countries to encourage them to continue to build their capacity and to continue to develop their capabilities,” he said. “Not only will those capabilities and capacities be brought to bear on al-Shabab in Somalia, but they will take their skillsets back home to deal with other priorities their governments may have for them in the future.”
And the American troops based in Djibouti spend a lot of time training with and operating with the Amisom troops before and after their deployments to Somalia, Stammer said.
Somalia has come so far since 1993, he said, but the nation still has a way to go. “Their vision for 2016 is to ratify their constitution,” the general said. “They have a plan to form states and create a state architecture throughout Somalia, and they are also going to have presidential elections.”
They may not make their self-imposed deadline, he said, but that is their intention. “They have set lofty goals and they are making efforts to do so,” Stammer said.