WASHINGTON – Al-Qaida is strengthening its position daily in Africa as regional terrorist groups increasingly work together, the top U.S. commander for the region said Monday.
But Gen. Carter Ham, speaking at George Washington University’s Homeland Security Policy Institute, cautioned against a hasty military intervention to dislodge terrorists from a growing safe haven in northern Mali.
A badly planned attack would likely fail, making the situation worse, he said.
“As each day goes by, al-Qaida and other organizations are strengthening their hold in northern Mali,” Ham said. “So there is a compelling need for the international community, led by Africans, to address that.
“Negotiation is the best way; military intervention may be a necessary component. But if there is to be military intervention, it has to be successful. It cannot be done prematurely.”
The United Nations Security Council, the African Union and the Economic Community of West African States will likely devise a plan of action for Mali in coming weeks, he added.
Across Africa, militant groups include the al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabaab in Somalia, various extremist organizations in Libya, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb in northern Mali and Boko Haram militants in Nigeria, Ham said.
Ideological links between the Islamist extremist groups are becoming operational links, Ham said.
“It is a growing linkage, a growing network and collaboration and synchronization amongst the various violent extremist organizations which I think poses the greatest threat to regional stability, more broadly across Africa, certainly into Europe, and to the United States,” Ham said.
As an example, Ham said the United States believes Nigerian Boko Haram militants have traveled to northern Mali to receive training from al-Qaida operatives, and also receive money and weapons from terrorists based in the failed state.