“Frankly,” General Carter Ham, the outgoing head of the U.S. Africa Command told the NYT, “the intelligence community has not focused a lot on this part of the world. But we are starting to, out of necessity.”
The U.S. was woefully underprepared for the 9/11/12 attack in Benghazi, Ham continued, and remains unable to quickly counter threats from other Islamist militants in North Africa. It is up to Africom to oversee all of Africa except Egypt. But its headquarters is in Germany—much too far, Ham acknowledged, for special emergency squads to respond quickly in crises like the Benghazi attack. Notes the Times: “Africom…is understaffed and poorly financed for challenges that include countering Al Qaeda’s fighters in Mali, Islamic extremists in Libya, drug traffickers in West Africa and armed rebels in the Democratic Republic of Congo.”
Africom was originally tasked with training African troops. “African solutions to African problems” was the mantra. But most of the local troops it trained over the past few years are, at best, barely up to the task of defending their countries against these new threats. And with no assigned forces on the continent except for a handful on a base in Djibouti, Africom itself remains weak. As General Ham told the Times, America’s capacity to tackle terrorism in Africa since 2007, when Africom was set up, has been “mixed.”
Weak states in Africa are the new front in the global war on terror, where the U.S. faces a new generation of Islamist militants bent on drawing Washington into wars it neither wants nor can afford. With budget cuts looming for the Pentagon, Washington must find new ways to address these emerging threats.