US Marine Corps Lt. Gen. Thomas Waldhauser has been nominated to be the next commander of AFRICOM
Before and during his confirmation hearing to become the next commander of US Africa Command, US Marine Corps Lieutenant General Thomas Waldhauser faced many questions about his command style, his knowledge, his challenges and his solutions. Here is a broad selection of some of the key topics.
Within AFRICOM AOR, what do you consider the highest counterterrorism priorities?
Waldhauser: AFRICOM’s top counterterrorism priorities are neutralizing al-Shabaab and transitioning the campaign from the African Union Mission in Somalia to a Somali-led operation, degrading violent extremist organizations in the Sahel-Maghreb, such as IS-Libya, containing and degrading Boko Haram, and interdicting illicit trafficking that resources violent extremism.
What is your assessment of the threat posed by al-Shabaab to the region, the United States, and broader western interests?
Waldhauser: Despite losses of territory, influence, and conflict among their senior leaders, Al-Shabaab remains a threat to US persons and Western interests in East Africa, and retains the capability to effectively attack members of AMISOM, the Somali National Army and the Somali Federal government. Additionally, Al-Shabaab propaganda, which consistently singles out US and other Western targets, further demonstrates the group’s intent to target western interests throughout the region as evident in the Westgate Siege video of 2015 and the Path to Paradise video of 2013.
In 2016 we expect activity to increase across the region during the Ramadan period. Al-Shabaab seeks to conduct high profile attacks similar to the one on Kenyan Defense Force’s base at El Adde.
Al-Shahaab continues to pose a threat to aviation as demonstrated by attacks against Daalo airlines and the improvised explosive device attack at Beledweyne Airport.
Modest and sustained US assistance has contributed to AMISOM’s increased effectiveness. AMISOM forces liberated large portions of southern Somalia. AMISOM’s gains against Al-Shabaab have increased opportunities for progress in governance and development. However, as demonstrated by recent Al-Shabaab offensives, AMISOM successes are fragile and will require continued U.S. and international assistance.
What is your assessment of the threat posed by Boko Haram to Nigeria, the region, the US, and broader western interests?
Waldhauser: Traditionally, Boko Haram has focused the vast majority of its operations on local national and host nation targets; however, the group is avowedly anti-Western. Boko Haram has issued public calls for attacks against Western/international targets, but has only conducted one mass-casualty anti-Western attack—the August 2011 suicide bombing of the United Nations building in Abuja, Nigeria. At this time, there are no indications Boko Haram has shifted its targeting strategies away from regional targets to Western interests. Boko Haram will likely focus on soft targets in the region, given the group would probably conclude security at hard targets like US/Western embassies would prevent a successful attack.
Boko Haram is a recognized branch of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and calls itself the “Islamic State – West Africa.” This link provides Boko Haram greater legitimacy; the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant has also provided guidance and support to propaganda efforts and has likely helped enhance some Boko Haram tactical tradecraft. In the future, this could expand to limited provision of fighters and materiel.
President of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, appears to be fulfilling anti-corruption promises made during his campaign. Early indications are that appointees to senior military positions will be willing partners in US security force assistance activities and are attempting to improve the effectiveness and professionalism of the security forces.
What is your assessment of the security situation in Libya?
Waldhauser: Libya’s precarious political situation coupled with IS-Libya’s destabilizing influence could push the country toward civil war, threatening US interests in Africa, Europe, and the Middle East. IS-Libya’s current estimated strength now in question after Libyan forces cordoned and advanced into Surt. We previously assessed IS-Libya had 4,500-6,500 fighters with a majority of the group being comprised of foreign fighters from Tunisia and the Sahel region.
Before the Surt offensive, IS-Libya was considered the most proficient Islamic State branch outside of Iraq and Syria in terms of its ability to project force and govern territory. As conditions rapidly evolve, we believe IS-Libya will adapt a more asymmetric approach seeking to slow and disrupt further gains made by Libyan forces. We expect IS-Libya to use its enduring presence in the west near Sabratha to facilitate attacks in Tunisia as a way to export instability.
What efforts would you undertake to prevent and/or counter the spread of AQIM operations, fundraising activities, and ideology in North and West Africa?
Waldhauser: AFRICOM is and will continue to work to degrade violent extremist organizations across the Sahel-Maghreb. Crucially, AFRICOM supports Operation Barkhane, France’s 3,000 person effort to stabilize the region. In Mali, Niger and Chad, AFRICOM will continue to provide Security Force Assistance in concert with Department of State Security Sector Assistance.
If confirmed, how would you seek to strengthen the impact of Operation Observant Compass while recognizing those competing national priorities of our partners in the counter-LRA fight?
Waldhauser: Despite competing priorities, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan, and Central African Republic remain committed to participating in the African Union Regional Task Force—though their force capabilities are limited. Uganda, the largest troop contributor to the African Union Regional Task Force, has announced its intention to withdraw its forces. AFRICOM has a longstanding relationship with the Ugandan People’s Defense Force, and if confirmed, AFRICOM would continue close coordination with the US country team to ensure our engagement with the Ugandan government and security forces is in support of regional stability.
Regardless of force composition, AFRICOM remains committed to building the capability of the African Union Regional Task Force until a change in U.S. policy dictates otherwise. In addition to working with our African partners to counter the Lord’s Resistance Army directly, AFRICOM is also working with regional partners to counter illicit activities that support the Lord’s Resistance and other destabilizing influencers in the region.
In your view, do China and the United States share common security objectives in the AFRICOM AOR?
Waldhauser: China’s security interests are ensuring access to valuable resources and markets while enhancing its political influence. The United States and more closely aligned western nations have broader interests that include stability, humanitarian concerns, and improved governance. Nevertheless, China and the US should cooperate on issues of mutual interest such as counterterrorism, and on other projects that satisfy both countries objectives.
In your opinion, what effect has China’s engagement with African militaries had on those militaries and on US security interests?
While China seeks influence, it has yet to yield significant impacts on African militaries and US interests. China’s engagement with African militaries will allow them to increasingly gain favor among African military elites to further arms sales and Mil-Mil engagement opportunities. China does provide limited training for military leaders and has engaged in arms sales or military training with two thirds of all countries in Africa. China currently has approximately 2,600 troops and advisors involved in seven peace operations across Africa who are interacting and learning from militaries on the continent. However, China does not have as extensive of an advising and training program as many Western countries, to include the US.
In regard to arms sales to Sub-Saharan African countries, China is a leading supplier of military equipment to include small arms and heavier weapons such as armor and artillery. China may be a preferred vendor by providing customer incentives such as lower pricing on equipment and weaponry or other types of assistance bundled with arms sales.
Importantly, Chinese security cooperation programs and arms sales are untied to demands for political or social reforms. This fact has been very enticing to many African governments who often resent or are frustrated with US and other Western countries’ insistences on political and governmental reforms tied to receiving economic or security assistance. Many African leaders view this approach as a threat to sovereignty, which is contrasted with the Chinese polices that do not include social changes or restrictions on use as conditions.
China’s activities on the African continent do not pose a direct threat or challenge to US National security interests. However, Chinese influence on the continent is increasing. This influence may exclude US economic and military influence and reduce US leverage over democratic changes on the continent. Support from African countries, which make up over a quarter of the voting bloc in the UN General Assembly, is important for China as they continue to pursue increased global influence.
China’s construction of a naval logistics facility in Djibouti, its first overseas logistics facility, to resupply their ships supporting UN anti-piracy operations in the Horn of Africa illustrates its desire to be seen as a global maritime power. This facility, although geographically located close to US facilities in the region poses minimal threat to our security interests. Chinese dedication to ongoing peace operations shows their willingness to seek influence among African and other peacekeeping nations to improve global perceptions and to support China’s global agenda.
China endeavors to expand influence in Africa and strengthen influence in international organizations, the United States will increasingly have to compete for influence on the continent but this is a by-product of, not the main objective, of China’s policies on the continent. China’s focus will likely remain increasing its political influence and maintaining access to African markets and resources. Chinese activities on the continent are not a zero-sum game in regard to competition with the United States. China’s recent offer to provide a $60 million grant intended to improve the capability of the African Standby Force and their crisis response capacity highlights China’s willingness to increase its involvement in African security and engage African militaries.
Maritime security has proven to be a significant issue on the coasts of West and East Africa. What is your assessment of AFRICOM’s maritime security initiatives?
Waldhauser: AFRICOM has seen some success in its maritime security initiatives. The challenges have global implications and include piracy, trafficking in persons, narcotics, and weaponry, armed robbery and kidnapping, illegal migration, and illegal fishing. These transnational threats are best addressed with regional solutions. AFRICOM-sponsored maritime exercises, partner training events, and regional maritime operation coordination centers contribute to our partners’ abilities to perform maritime security for themselves.
Through United States Naval Forces Africa, AFRICOM supports regional maritime security activities and complements civilian initiatives that address root causes of maritime crime by strengthening governance and promoting economic development. In the Gulf of Guinea, our cooperation with Benin, Ghana, Nigeria and Togo has led to the regional enforcement of the Yaoundé Code of Conduct, an information sharing and maritime security agreement that has increased our partners’ capacity to counter illicit trafficking and piracy.
China does provide limited training for military leaders and often engages militaries without restrictions due to previous human rights violations. China has arms sales or military training with approximately two-thirds of all countries in Africa, and has engaged economically with almost all. Chinese assistance has built much needed infrastructure to include rail lines, roads, buildings, and airports.
Do you foresee China’s growing energy and resource demands affecting security developments in Africa?
Waldhauser: China seeks to gain expanded access to Africa’s natural resources to meet the Chinese economy’s needs and support China’s economic health. China has limited concerns about how its acquisition of resources may affect the security and development situations on the continent. However, China’s involvement in several peacekeeping and development missions on the continent demonstrates that China can play a direct role in helping promote African stability.
China may inadvertently undermine U.S. efforts to encourage the professionalism of African militaries through its substantial arms sales on the continent. While U.S. equipment is generally superior, Chinese equipment is adequate for the needs of most African nations and comes without end use verification requirements normally associated with U.S. arms sales. This makes Chinese arms an attractive alternative to governments which might seek to use their military forces in a manner not aligned with U.S. expectations.