WASHINGTON – The Pentagon needs more troops trained in the cultures and languages of Africa in order to better confront the increasing terror threat from the continent, a top general said Thursday.
Army Gen. Carter Ham, who has been nominated to head U.S. Africa Command, told a Senate committee that the threat of terror from Somalia and other areas of East Africa is one of the command's greatest challenges.
And he said that while a number of Special Operations forces are trained in African languages and cultures, the military is not moving fast enough to provide similar training to other troops.
Al-Qaida-linked terrorist groups in Yemen and Africa have increasingly targeted Western interests, with al-Shabab in Somalia luring Somali-Americans home for terror training in hopes of sending them back to the U.S. to wage attacks.
U.S. officials have acknowledged that Yemen-based al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula poses the most immediate threat for smaller, less sophisticated terror attacks within the U.S. AQAP leaders in Yemen have been linked to the failed Christmas Day airliner attack and the recent foiled plot to mail bombs hidden inside computer printer cartridges from Yemen to the U.S.
Militants regularly travel back and forth between Yemen and Somalia.
There is a lot of concern, said Republican Sen. George LeMieux of Florida, about the increase in communications between al-Shabab and AQAP, and "the fact that they may be recruiting folks through Yemen and training them in Somalia."
Much of the U.S. military has been tied up in Iraq and Afghanistan over the past decade, but as those wars wind down and troops become available Ham said more should be trained in African languages and cultures.
"The extremist threat that's emerging from East Africa is probably the greatest concern that Africa Command will face in the near future," Ham told the Senate Armed Services Committee Thursday, during a hearing on his nomination.
Senators called the challenges facing Africa Command staggering and said it was imperative the command get what it needs to counter terror threats, including personnel, funding, equipment, as well as intelligence and surveillance assistance.
Ham said that he also wants to work with the Pentagon's Southern Command to try and stem the illicit drug trafficking that routes narcotics from South America through West Africa and into Europe. He suggested the military could help stem the flow of drugs through maritime operations along Africa's coast.
The U.S. military currently has a base at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti.
US Africa Command: http://www.africom.mil/