We Cannot Allow Al-Qaeda A Safe Haven As Extremist Organizations Aggressively Expand Operations In Africa; Ros-Lehtinen Says

Feb 14, 2013 Issues: Foreign Affairs

(WASHINGTON) – U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), Chairman of the Middle East and North Africa Subcommittee, made the following statement today at a Full Committee hearing  titled “The Crisis in Mali: U.S. Interests & the International Response.”  Statement by Ros-Lehtinen:

“I have two questions one is on funding the Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership and then one has to do with AFRICOM, and let me lead up to those.

The situation in Mali, as we have seen, does not exist in a vacuum.

When analyzing the crisis in Mali, we must also examine the spillover affect emanating from Northern Africa from the Maghreb and Sahel regions to Egypt, Algeria, Libya and beyond.

Last month, former Secretary Clinton testified in front of the Senate and said “There is no doubt that the Algerian terrorists had weapons from Libya. There is no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM have weapons from Libya.”

So for years radical Islamist and extremist organizations have been aggressively expanding their operations in Africa.

Since 2001, we have witnessed a dramatic increase in attacks by al-Qaeda and its affiliates all across continent, most notably in the Maghreb and Sahel regions.

The recent attacks on our consulates and embassies in Libya, Tunisia and Egypt underscore this harsh reality.

If al-Qaeda becomes entrenched in Mali – the country that has been one of the most susceptible to al-Qaeda’s influence - it will eventually create a safe haven there.

This may cement the opportunity for terrorist organizations to further organize globally and have an even stronger transnational reach.

How did we get here? Did we not see this threat coming? And has the Administration been naïve to these growing threats?

On numerous occasions, the President has gone so far as to say that al-Qaeda has been “decimated and that it is on the path to defeat.”

These sentiments illustrate that the Administration has avoided the grim reality of the situation.

Al-Qaeda is like the mythical Hydra. It’s a beast with many heads which, if you cut off one head, two grow in its place.

Weak governance has left these nations vulnerable to infiltration by radical groups like AQIM, Boko Haram, and other U.S. designated terrorist organizations that are seeking refuge from increased pressure that we are putting to bear in the Middle East.

Have the recent tragic events in Benghazi, Mali and Algeria finally gotten the attention of the Administration?

As we have seen, for the many criticisms that the George W. Bush Administration has gotten, he started a key counterterrorism initiative to fight this expansion and it’s the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP).

It was created with the purpose of addressing these rapidly evolving threats in the Sahel and Maghreb regions by supporting partner countries in an effort to eliminate the terrorist organizations ability from getting a foothold in Africa.

And although this important program has had successes, it comes as a surprise that combined funding for this partnership administered through State and USAID has decreased every year since 2009.

So my questions are:

How would you assess the efficacy of Trans Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership today?

Given that the situation facing our frontline posts, personnel, and our interests in the region is not new, why were programs like this partnership reduced on an annual basis under the Administration when the threats were so apparent?

Lastly, on U.S. Africa Command AFRICOM another key partner in assisting our allies in the region and leading our counter terrorism efforts.

How can we best equip AFRICOM to play a more constructive role in combating these threats from AQIM and other extremist groups?

Do the African nations have the willingness and capacity to assist and support our U.S. security objectives in the region?

Thank you.”