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Military operations alone can’t solve Africa terror trouble, general says

US Africa Command Commander Gen. David M. Rodriguez at the US Arica Command change of command ceremony in Stuttgart, Germany, Apr. 5, 2013.

D. MYLES CULLEN/DEPARTMENT OF DEFENSE

By JOHN VANDIVER | STARS AND STRIPES Published: October 23, 2013

STUTTGART, Germany — Last month’s brazen terrorist attack on a Kenyan mall that left scores of people dead “validates” U.S. efforts against the Somali military group Al-Shabab, which is being forced to shift tactics after a series of defeats against U.S.- backed African Union forces, two top U.S. officials said Wednesday.

“We are pursuing the right strategy and what it [the attack] showed is we need to bolster that strategy,” said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of state for African Affairs. “We know we must continue those efforts to go after Al-Shabab so we don’t see those (kinds of) attacks again.”

During an online news conference with reporters, Thomas-Greenfield and Africa Command’s Gen. David Rodriguez said the policy of training and equipping regional militaries in the fight against Al-Shabab has caused a weakened terrorist group to lash out at soft targets, such as the mall it attacked on Sept. 21. Just a few years ago, Al-Shabab appeared poised to overthrow Somalia’s weak central government, but a series of defeats against African Union forces has pushed them out of former strongholds in the country.

“We think many of the successes of AMISOM over the last several years have led to this response by Al-Shabab,” Rodriguez said, referring to the African Union Mission in Somalia. Al-Shabab’s overall weakened condition “validates” the strategy, the AFRICOM chief said.

During a wide-ranging conversation, the U.S. officials touted efforts across the continent, such as programs intended to encourage trade and investment in Africa as well as providing training support for the continent’s militaries.

Critics, however, say the U.S. has become overly fixated on counter-terrorism activities in recent years. Such concerns are underscored by the emergence of new drone bases that have sprouted up on the continent and the Oct. 5 U.S. commando raids in Somalia and Libya.

Since it was launched in 2007, AFRICOM has steadily raised its profile as the military confronts a host of security challenges. Chief among them are the Al-Shabab on the Horn of Africa, al-Qaida affiliates across northern Africa and the Islamic militant group Boko Haram in northern Nigeria.

Those groups are “loosely affiliated,” Rodriguez said. While the groups have their own agendas, they also have common aims, he said.

“I think the unifying thing is the overall ideology and the impact they want to have is to destabilize countries,” Rodriguez said.

Still, the U.S. has no plans to take the next step and arm surveillance drones now deployed on the continent, he said.

“The solution to terrorism in the region is a long-term, broad, whole-of-government approach by all of our partners,” Rodriguez said. “It is not solved just by military operations.”

Meanwhile, AFRICOM’s headquarters in Stuttgart appears secure for now. With a budget crunch at the Pentagon, there has been speculation that AFRICOM could be consolidated back into U.S. European Command, which was responsible for much of the military’s efforts in Africa prior to AFRICOM.

“That’s not part of the plan right now,” Rodriguez said. “We will see how it goes in the future. Right now there are no plans to consolidate.”

vandiver.john@stripes.com

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