Vince Crawley's Africa Blog

The Never-Ending AFRICOM Story – Plus al-Qaeda affiliates in Africa

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on May 8, 2012

There’s more language about the location of the headquarters of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) in the just-released version of the FY 2013 Defense Authorization bill that went out May 7 by  Rep. Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. It’s on page 588 of a 595-page draft bill. We’re still fairly early in the legislative process, but the issue of where AFRICOM should be located has been percolating for more than half a decade now.

The draft bill also asks the Defense Department to provide an update on the strategy to address extremist groups that have or seek ties to al-Qaeda, including several regional groups in Africa.

First, here’s the AFRICOM language:

Geographic Positioning of the Headquarters for U.S. Africa Command

In the committee report (H. Rept. 112-78) accompanying the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012, the committee directed the Secretary of Defense to conduct an analysis of the placement of the headquarters of the U.S. Africa Command and report the findings to the congressional defense committees by April 1, 2012. The committee was disappointed that the report was not completed by that deadline, but has granted the Secretary an extension through July 1, 2012.
The committee continues to believe that the establishment of U.S. Africa Command as a geographic combatant command was an appropriate response to meet the national security challenges originating in, and transiting through, the African region. The committee also believes that the physical location of the command’s headquarters must balance operational requirements with resource constraints to enable the command to function both effectively and efficiently.
Therefore, the committee directs the Comptroller General of the United States to conduct a comprehensive analysis of options for the permanent placement of the U.S. Africa Command headquarters and to provide a report of the analysis to the congressional defense committees by December 31, 2012. The study should consider locations both in the United States and overseas, or a combination thereof.

And on pages 580-581, the draft bill contains language expressing concern about the growth of extremist groups, including several in Africa, that have or seek ties with al-Qaida. The text reads as follows:

Counterterrorism Policy and the Growing Threat of Al Qaeda Regional Affiliates

The committee is concerned about the spread of Al Qaeda regional affiliates and the lack of a comprehensive counterterrorism strategy to mitigate these threats. The committee has previously expressed concern in this area, most recently in section 1032 of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 (Public Law 112-81).
The committee notes that the February 2012 U.S. Intelligence Community Worldwide Threat Assessment depicted a core Al Qaeda (AQ) with diminished operational importance and a more decentralized leadership movement. The assessment further noted that continued robust U.S. and partnered
counterterrorism (CT) efforts and pressure would likely lead to fragmentation of the movement within a few years.
While core AQ is diminishing in operational importance, the committee is concerned that regional Al Qaeda affiliates, particularly in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula, continue to increase attacks both locally and globally, expand ideological influence, and gain territorial control in strategic areas of concern. Additionally, several senior national security officials have identified Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) in the Republic of Yemen as the most serious terrorist threat to the United States. The committee notes that AQAP continues to exploit local political instability and expand local influence, particularly in the southern provinces. While remaining an international threat, AQAP has expanded domestic operations within Yemen to launch a wide-scale domestic insurgency, thereby transforming the organization from an Al Qaeda affiliate to a Taliban-like movement further threatening the region. The committee notes that such gains provide AQAP with greater freedom to move, plan, and project threats regionally and nternationally.
Similarly, Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) continues operations in northern Africa and the U.S. intelligence community has noted that AQIM is seeking opportunities to strike Western targets. The committee is concerned that post-coup political instability in the Republic of Mali presents another regional point of vulnerability given the concentration of AQIM members in Mali’s northern desert. There are also fears that the Islamic extremist group Boko Haram in the Federal Republic of Nigeria has engaged with elements of AQIM, suggesting a wider regional trend of shared tactics and resources threatening security and stability throughout the region. Additionally, Al Shabaab in Somalia recently announced a public merger with core AQ. Al Shabaab grew out of a nationalist movement within Somalia to repel what was viewed by Al Shabaab as Ethiopian troops occupying Somali lands.
However, with the help of AQ leaders such as the recently deceased AQ operative, Huran Fazul, Al Shabaab has demonstrated the capacity to strike outside of the Somali borders, as evidence by the  terrorist attacks in the Republic of Uganda during the World Cup in July 2010. Additionally, Al Shabaab has been responsible for recruiting would-be militant from the Somali diaspora in the West.
The committee is concerned that the present strategy to mitigate these threats lacks a holistic approach. While the committee believes that kinetic options are an important component to the overall strategy, the committee is concerned that over-reliance on such options distracts from the need for a comprehensive approach to reverse the gains made by these regional affiliates and to protect the homeland. In particular, a comprehensive strategy should place greater emphasis on capacity building, particularly in fragile states or areas that too easily become terrorist sanctuaries. For this reason, the committee included section 1032 in Public Law 112-81, which requires National Security Planning Guidance that would serve as an interagency strategy to enhance the capacity of partner governments to assist in eliminating the ability of Al Qaeda and its affiliates to establish or maintain safe havens.
The June 2011 National Strategy for Counterterrorism highlights the need for building security partnerships as part of comprehensive strategy. However, the committee believes that U.S. and partnered counterterrorism (CT) efforts require additional emphasis. Specifically, the committee believes that ctivities that utilize U.S. Special Operations Forces and an “indirect approach” that leverages local and indigenous forces should be used more aggressively and surgically in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula in close coordination with and in support of geographic combatant commander and U.S. embassy country team requirements. The committee believes that current indirect activities are not fully resourced and underutilized to counter gains and preclude the expansion of Al Qaeda affiliates in these regions.
The committee believes a comprehensive strategy should also include greater prioritization of capture operations of high value terrorists. In 2009, former CIA Director, General Michael Hayden, noted that information obtained during interrogations of senior AQ members provided the majority of U.S. intelligence regarding the terrorist organization and had led to successful follow-on operations throughout the world. The committee is concerned that the lack of a comprehensive detention regime for high-value terrorists has diminished U.S. intelligence on AQ and its affiliates.
The committee believes that an aggressive strategy that builds security partnerships, develops host nation capabilities, leverages such an indirect approach, and prioritizes capture operations would effectively supplement the need for kinetic options and presents a more balanced approach. Therefore, the committee directs the Secretary of Defense to brief the congressional defense committees within 90 days after the date of the enactment of this Act and provide an update on efforts to counter the spread of Al Qaeda regional affiliates and other efforts to improve national security planning guidance pursuant to section 1032 of Public Law 112-81.


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