Opinion: Why Engagement In Africa Matters

Less than 10 days into his new job as commander of U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend traveled to the African continent for the first time. He visited the Republic of Djibouti and Somalia. So why does this matter to America?

While the trip served as an opportunity for AFRICOM’s fifth commander to meet and connect with commanders, service members, U.S. Ambassadors to both countries, as well as meet with African leaders, including Somalia’s Prime Minister, as well as the Chief of Defense and Minister of Defense for the Republic of Djibouti, the visit had broader implications for America. It signaled the importance of the relationships, the strength of the partnerships, as well as what is potentially at stake.

Since 2003, Djibouti has served as host to Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Djibouti and the U.S. share common interests in counter-terrorism, anti-piracy, and regional stability.

Djibouti is the location where a sizable portion of the roughly 7,000 U.S. forces on the African continent serve and its area of responsibility extends to 12 East African countries. Djibouti is also the place where the People’s Republic of China opened its first overseas military base.

It is an area where China is heavily involved in financing and building key infrastructure, which is telling given that Djibouti overlooks one of the world’s busiest shipping lanes. The African continent is where China’s government has actively demonstrated an intent to focus on and prioritize activity. China’s influence is growing there, and it’s viewed as a place of opportunity.

There is no lack of opportunities to partner in Africa. The African continent is roughly 3.5 times the size of the United States. If pressed, few in the U.S. would be able to tell you that there are 54 countries in Africa.

While there is significant opportunity to partner, ungoverned space has become susceptible to violent extremist organization influence. Enhancing our partners’ ability to counter these threats today represents a tremendous potential return of the investment for the United States tomorrow.

To help combat this threat, AFRICOM is training African forces in places such as Somalia. The U.S. is in a supporting role to the Somalis and an international United Nations, African Union, European Union, and African Union Mission in Somalia effort. AFRICOM is helping to build and train the Danab.

The Danab are specially-trained Somali forces who are taking the fight to the terror organization al-Shabaab. While al-Shabaab may not have strong name recognition in the U.S., their allegiance to al-Qaeda, the group responsible for the attacks against America on September 11, 2001, certainly does.

Today, al-Shabaab stands 5,000 to 7,000 strong with the potential to expand and spread if not confronted. Degrading groups like al-Shabaab today matters to Africa, and it matters to the United States…….

Source: Military Times