In a testimony delivered to the House Armed Services Committee, General Thomas Waldhauser (USMC), the commander of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), offered some valuable insight into American initiatives and, more importantly, state and non-state threats.
General Waldhauser stated that, contrary to popular belief, “the threats we are working against aren’t necessarily a threat to the homeland and may not be a threat to the region overall.” In fact, most of the terrorist groups active in Africa aren’t dedicated to terrorism, but diversify their activities to include weapons trafficking and local crime, among other things.
“These groups may hang out a shingle and say, ‘We’re with ISIS today,’” added General Waldhauser. “But they may or may not have the intent or capability to attack outside their particular part of the country. Even though they may call themselves al-Qaeda or ISIS, sometimes it’s difficult to say they’re a threat to the homeland.”
Notwithstanding, U.S. presence and initiatives in Somalia and Libya will not diminish. The two countries, according to AFRICOM, are the only ones in which American forces have the green light to conduct kinetic operations.
As would be expected from any commander, General Waldhauser called for prudence when it comes to cutting back his budget or available forces. “At the moment we’ve been directed to conduct tranche one [cuts], which takes us out to the June of 2020, so that’s roughly 300 or so people coming off the continent, half of whom are conventional forces,” said the AFRICOM chief. “At the moment, we don’t see a significant issue there. And whether we’ll ever be directed to execute the second half is to be determined.”
AFRICOM has somewhere between 6,000 and 8,000 conventional troops and special operations forces (SOF) deployed throughout Africa. To meet their objectives, however, that force shouldn’t be reduced and its resources should remain intact.
With respect to the increasing presence of Chinese troops and financial ventures on the African continent, General Waldhauser said, “Djibouti is the first overseas Chinese base. I have said before I don’t believe it will be the last. They are looking for other areas and so forth to especially ports because what they want to do to a large degree the infrastructure, they build ports, roads, bridges and whatnot is tied to the extraction, mineral extraction, they are conducting in those countries.”
For decades now, China has been pursuing a multifaceted strategy in Africa. Beijing’s objective isn’t just to hoard resources; the Chinese leadership is also trying to amass geopolitical clout. With its eyes set on superpower status, China understands the importance of having friendly African nations in international bodies such as the United Nations. Chinese involvement in Angola is a paragon example of this strategy.