Washington, DC — Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander, U.S. Africa Command, provided 2020 Posture Testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee Jan. 30, 2020. below are excerpts.
A secure and stable Africa is an enduring American interest.
Africa is home to the fastest growing economies and populations in the world, sits at crossroads of international commerce and trade, and watches over the world’s most important sea lines of communication. The U.S. plays a unique role in ensuring these strategic routes remain open to all. The international order we have helped create gives people everywhere the best hope for safe, secure, and prosperous lives. Africans recognize this and continue to look to the U.S. for leadership. Our future security, prosperity, and strategic access in times of crisis rest on free, open, and secure sea and air lines of communication around Africa. Simply put, a secure and stable Africa is essential for America’s security.
The land mass of Africa is larger than the United States, China, India, Japan, and all of Europe combined. This vast continent of opportunity and promise also includes strategic challenges from malign competitors and violent extremist organizations (VEOs). Of the 1.3 billion people who live in Africa, over two-thirds live in conditions of astonishing poverty. Poverty and food insecurity are exacerbated by natural resource degradation, shifting weather patterns, climate impact, infectious disease outbreaks, and conflict. Lack of economic opportunities and a search for a better life leads to internal displacement and refugees, which creates new challenges and conflicts over increasingly scarce resources. These factors and others have led to an uptick in migration to Europe in recent years, under dangerous conditions in many cases, and feed a lucrative market for VEOs and criminal networks.
These challenges will be amplified as Africa’s population continues to grow. By 2050, Africa’s population is projected to double, and more than a quarter of the world’s inhabitants will reside on the continent.
Global Power Competition
China and Russia have long recognized the strategic and economic importance of Africa, and continue to seize opportunities to expand their influence across the continent. The National Defense Strategy directs us to prioritize great power competition with China and Russia due to the “magnitude of the threats they post to U.S. security and prosperity today and the potential for those threats to increase in the future.” The U.S. encourages constructive partners helping to develop Africa’s economic, infrastructure, humanitarian, and security sectors to the benefit of all Africans. However, malign actors, unencumbered by international norms and professional military standards, leverage speed of action and access to economic and security arenas in many parts of the continent. Their coercive and exploitative activities undermine and threaten many African countries’ stability.
Violent Extremist Organizations Remain a Reality
Violent extremist networks are expanding in Africa at a rapid pace, due in large part to weak governance and disenfranchised populations while employing violence to exacerbate despair and hopelessness. They undermine public trust in local governments and militaries, eventually filling – via illegitimate means – security and public service voids while expanding their radical ideology. In general, African governments view VEOs as near-term threats to their capacity to govern effectively, protect their populations, and improve their economies.
First, we understand Africa’s challenges cannot be resolved solely through the use of U.S. military power. U.S. Africa Command must Partner for Success with a diverse network that includes African nations, strategic allies, U.S. government agencies and departments, and multinational coalitions to prevent, address and mitigate conflict in Africa. We emphasize military support to diplomacy and development as our security activities directly complement Department of State and USAID efforts to reduce the spread of harmful ideologies, strengthen governments to protect their citizens, and promote stability and security, good governance, and economic successes. Security is a key enabler of U.S. whole-of-government and whole-of-society efforts – a minimum security threshold must be met for diplomacy to work, economies to flourish, and development efforts to take root. On the other side, development and diplomatic engagement are necessary to consolidate military and other security gains. U.S. Africa Command helps African partners create this operational space in Africa to build the governance and economic growth necessary for them to repel malign actors and VEO influences.
Second, we Compete to Win. We conduct our security activities to safeguard U.S. interests. We seek areas where our interests align with those of our allies and partners as we work together to achieve shared objectives. This is particularly true where we see unhelpful activities and pressure exerted by malign actors. Chinese, Russian and VEO activities on the continent are destabilizing and promote a disregard for human rights and inclusive economic growth that will upend the progress the continent has seen in the last ten years. U.S. Africa Command must continue to find ways to expand the competitive space and outpace Chinese and Russian influence to maintain our strategic access in Africa. America’s values, our high standards of professionalism, our direct focus and commitment to addressing partner security needs, and our high-quality equipment and niche capabilities give us a qualitative advantage over these competitors in Africa which our African partners actively seek.
Most importantly, in order to counter potential threats to the U.S. and our core interests, we work closely with allies and partners to apply persistent Pressure on the Malign Networks of global and regional competitors, VEOs, and transnational criminal organizations. Our principal means for applying pressure is working with our African and international partners, increasing African security capabilities, information operations, and, only when necessary, using military force. Ultimately, in countries like Somalia that have seen progress over the course of a decade of investment, our use of force in Africa directly supports host government, African, and international partner efforts to provide the security required for development activities to bring about long-term stability and prosperity.
Priorities and Partners
U.S. Africa Command advances U.S. strategic objectives by focusing on global power competition to maintain strategic access, by prioritizing efforts that protect the Homeland and U.S. personnel on the continent, and by responding to regional crises across our area of responsibility. U.S. security cooperation with African partners builds professional, capable militaries that can provide security which sets the conditions for economic growth and development. We achieve and maintain influence with our African partners through security cooperation, exercises, engagements, operations, and “setting the theater” or maturing infrastructure on the continent.
Counter-VEO is Global Power Competition
U.S. Africa Command prioritizes global power competition, even while we remain engaged in counter-VEO (C-VEO) operations. At AFRICOM, we recognize the strategic environment is changing and the Joint Force must orient the bulk of our efforts against China and Russia even as we counter VEOs that threaten America. In Africa, the C-VEO fight is a key component of global power competition as these efforts are not mutually exclusive. Our experience, training, equipment, advice, and other unique capabilities to support C-VEO efforts led by our allies and partners addresses immediate partner needs, builds relationships for the future, and is a distinct U.S. advantage that our competitors cannot match. Outside of arms sales that they leverage to their own benefit, China and Russia do little to counter violent extremist groups seeking to destabilize Africa.
Building Partner Capability is Global Power Competition
Building partner capability is also an important tool in global power competition, reinforcing the U.S. role as the world’s elite professional fighting force and furthering American values, respect for human rights, and adherence to obligations and commitments. We have learned that we cannot surge trust. The enduring relationships built while we develop partner capabilities provide us with the long-term strategic alliances we need to address future challenges.
Economy of Force
U.S. Africa Command continues to assess and implement reform efforts to maximize value from our precious resources. For example, we prioritize the warfighting readiness of assigned and allocated forces through refinement of our exercise program. We are committed to optimizing the effectiveness of our security cooperation assistance and activities and we must be innovative in how we use our assets in support of our strategic objectives. Honest assessments and prudent investments ensure the U.S. maximizes the impact of every taxpayer dollar while remaining the premier security partner for priority African governments.
U.S. Africa Command remains ready to protect U.S. citizens, interests, strategic access, and respond to crises in our area of responsibility. The men and women of U.S. Africa Command, our partners on the continent, and our broad collection of stakeholders understand how important Africa is to the global economy and security environment. Strategic access to Africa, its airspace, and its surrounding waters is vital to U.S. national security. As outlined in our governing strategies, long-term global power competition with China and Russia and the need to limit the harmful influence of malign actors in the region is of utmost importance.
In my first six months of command, and through our ongoing “blank slate review” process, I have learned that small investments in Africa go a long way. A few bucks and a few troops can make a significant difference and have proven to be the cornerstone of multinational efforts in the region. What U.S. Africa Command accomplishes with relatively few people and few dollars, on a continent 3.5 times the size of the continental United States, is a bargain for the American taxpayer. That said, U.S. Africa Command is diligently working to make our operations even more efficient and adjusting our posture and activities to ensure U.S. strategic access for today and tomorrow. Africa is key terrain for competition with China and Russia, and our support to C-VEO operations is necessary. While we can and will grow more efficient to contribute to higher NDS priorities, if the U.S. steps back from Africa too far, China and Russia will fill the void to our detriment. Violent extremist organizations will be able to grow unchecked, some will ultimately threaten the Homeland, and we will lose opportunities for increased trade and investments with some of the fastest growing economies in the world.
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