The top U.S. commander in Africa met with African leaders in Washington D.C. recently to discuss U.S. Africa Command’s role in the new National Defense Strategy and the value of partner capacity.
Marine Corps Gen. Thomas D. Waldhauser engaged with 21 defense attachés and the African Union Ambassador to the U.S. in a wide-ranging discussion at the Africa House, addressing various strategies and common challenges on the continent.
While the NDS and the U.S. National Security Strategy prioritize Great Power Competition, violent extremist organizations, security challenges, and U.S. commitment to the region were on the minds of African partners. Waldhauser said AFRICOM remains committed to building partner capacity and being a partner of choice for Africans.
“AFRICOM builds partner forces, seeks to enhance relationships and helps build the capabilities and capacity of African security forces to handle challenges inside their own countries and region,” said Waldhauser. “The U.S. is actively working to help bring about peace and stability on the continent.”
The commander also addressed the group’s concerns surrounding the planned reduction of about 10 percent of U.S. counter-terrorism forces on the continent, also known as Optimization. He stressed how AFRICOM will preserve a majority of its U.S. security cooperation, partnerships and programs in Africa in order to strengthen partner networks while enhancing capability.
“AFRICOM engagements across the continent include counter IED training, an Air Chief Conference in Morocco, legal training, Cutlass Express [maritime exercise], women peace and security initiatives, to name a few,” said Waldhauser. “With Optimization, none of our engagements will go away.”
Annual exercises, senior leader engagements and security force assistance missions also remain critical to enhancing partner capability, he said.
Against the backdrop of force reductions and an uptick in violence with Al-Shabaab in Somalia, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria in Libya, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, Mali, Algeria, Tunisia, and Somalia, and Al-Qaeda-aligned groups in West Africa, several African defense attachés remarked on the challenging threat environment and the value of AFRICOM training in overcoming issues.
"Africa faces challenges," said Brig. Gen. Alhassan Abu, Military Navy Air Attaché, Ghana and Dean, African Defense Attaché Association. "AFRICOM has [done] and can do so much to help stabilize Africa in the areas of peace and security."
Waldhauser highlighted the common shared enemy and issues that must be addressed over the long-term. Working by, with, and through African partners to respond to crises allows AFRICOM to continue to build partnership capacity, while protecting U.S. interests and isolating, degrading, and defeating violent extremist organizations. The partnerships also help overcome other shared threats through indirect and direct action.
“The violent extremist organization issue will remain a threat,” said Waldhauser. “We will be dealing with VEOs, in some form or fashion today and in the future…Solutions require a combination of military, diplomatic, and international efforts.”
African Union Ambassador to the United States, Her Excellence Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, also addressed security concerns and how increasing peace, security, and stability will bring about needed economic development.
“We need to take Africa where it needs to be,” she said. “There is a lot going on in Africa today, especially as it relates to security. We are facing a battle when it comes to security in Africa. Security is a serious uphill challenge that we need to be very realistic about. Issues of peace and security are keeping Africa from moving forward with Africa’s development agenda.”
Waldhauser outlined several of AFRICOM’s initiatives to ensure African partner forces are positioned to address security concerns. He specifically focused on AFRICOM training programs designed to develop organizations to a point where they are able to conduct operations on their own.
“Our focus is on capacity and capability building to ensure African forces will be able to deal with problems,” said Waldhauser. “AFRICOM uses various authorities and training to contribute to eradicating threats so they do not metastasize and grow bigger.”
While nothing that U.S. assistance is desired and appreciated, the Ambassador said creating a stronger Africa ultimately rests within the continent, specifically with the African people.
“The United States knows how to handle these [security] issues,” said Chihombori-Quao. “They can’t do it for us, we have to do it for ourselves. The more we engage with the United States it will help us build the Africa that we want.”
Waldhauser noted the influence and importance of military-to-military engagements and training in Africa. By strengthening their defense capabilities, Africans are better able to address their security threats.
“The U.S. is known for quality military training and equipment,” said Waldhauser. “Both are difference makers. Our training, the pride and expertise of our service members, and the existing military-to-military relationships cannot be replicated by others. It is a key reason African nations seek the U.S. as a partner of choice.”
The NDS shift toward Great Power Competition acknowledges China’s and Russia’s efforts to build economic and political influence across the continent. However, the Ambassador remarked on AFRICOM’s positive impact and demonstrated appreciation for the U.S.’s assistance in setting conditions for security, growth and partnership in Africa.
“America remains Africa’s preferred partner of choice in every way,” said the Ambassador. “A lot of goodwill exists between Africa and the United States.”