Commentary

Santa did not deliver to ‘The Youth’ in Africa

Don’t spit out your eggnog and overreact. The headline is not fake news. It’s actually a factual story, and one that deserves telling.

Al-Shabaab, the terrorist group linked to al-Qaida, translates to “The Youth” in English. Of course, Santa did not deliver to them. They are on the very, very, very bad list.

As many already know, al-Qaida is the same organization that attacked America and altered the lives of generations of Americans forever. What they may not know is al-Shabaab is aligned with them. Al-Shabaab is a nefarious group with the same evil intent to do harm to America and American interests. They have a desire but not quite the capability today.

This is because a small U.S. footprint and international effort to help Somalis build military capability is keeping them contained and in check.

It is important to help Americans understand why what we do on the African continent matters for America, her security and U.S. interests. It is a continent where the complexities of terrorism exist and global powers, such as China and Russia, are fiercely competing with a desire to be viewed as great partners in an era of great power competition.

Every day, I’m amazed at how a command representing 0.3 percent (yes, point 3 percent) of the Department of Defense budget achieves so much for America. There is a great deal of pride in how much is accomplished by the few, the proud…yes, we have Marines, but also, a joint force of sailors, soldiers, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen and international partners who take tremendous pride in this mission. Along with international partners, we also have Department of State and U.S. Agency for International Development representatives helping deliver needed supplies to boys, girls, and the good people of the African continent. While often under the radar, there is a lot happening in Africa, and a whole lot of good being done by U.S. Africa Command. Whether it is via high return on investment for military training exercises, security assistance or personal engagement, U.S. Africa Command is a team that strengthens alliances and partnerships, contains threats, addresses malign activity, and delivers added security to Africa and America.

While knocked back in Syria, the Islamic State group is on the African continent. Their intent, similar to al-Shabaab, is to do harm to innocent Africans and Westerners, deny progress, and to rob them of their future. With the massive size of the continent, ungoverned space represents a potential petri dish of terrorist recruitment and development possibility. To the last U.S. service member, U.S. Africa Command remains steadfast in preventing this from ever happening.

U.S. Africa Command is led by U.S. Army Gen. Stephen Townsend. As the leader responsible for the liberation of Raqqa and Mosul, he is a bonafide expert on ISIS as well as other terror organizations. In 2019, he diligently traveled across the African continent listening to the concerns of our African partners. He heads into 2020 with momentum gained by the command, as well as African and international partners.

Santa took notice. Here is a very small snapshot of his “good list:”

Building the Danab. The Danab is recognized as Somalia’s premiere fighting force. A small contingent of U.S. personnel are helping build this capability as part of an overarching international defense effort involving 22,000-plus African Union Mission in Somalia partners, the European Union, and a host of international contributors. The model for Africa is primarily African-led and internationally supported with U.S. assistance.

A Somali national army soldier stands in formation Aug. 17, 2018, after receiving his certificate of completion at a logistics course graduation ceremony in Mogadishu. (MC2 (SW/AW) Evan Parker/DoD)
A Somali national army soldier stands in formation Aug. 17, 2018, after receiving his certificate of completion at a logistics course graduation ceremony in Mogadishu. (MC2 (SW/AW) Evan Parker/DoD)

Precision overwatch. Whether an unmanned aerial vehicle or by other means, Santa’s journey to the continent was protected, and groups such as al-Shabaab and ISIS, as well as those who are naughty, were tracked, and helped Santa develop his “bad” list. NORAD’s Santa Tracker only told part of the story. Intelligence sharing enables safe passage, the security of Africans, and additional insight to inform Santa’s decisions. With every mission, there is a network of people on the good list who help ensure added opportunity for African economic development and the strengthening of U.S. military and economic partnerships.

As he peered down from his sleigh, Santa saw the completion of Nigerien Air Base 201. U.S. Air Force Red Horse personnel overcame tremendous challenges — locusts, dust storms, and other environmental hardships — and completed a hub for air capability. A truly historic feat, this capability provides valued intelligence and capability to Niger and West Africa. Made by the USA matters in Africa, especially when China and Russia are publicly expanding influence on the continent and seek preferred partner gold status. So many Red Horse civil engineers rolled up their sleeves and definitely made Santa’s good list!

Influencers and new programs. It was great to see an uptick and cross section of visitors to the U.S. Africa Command Headquarters and interest in the African continent in 2019. A key area of focus for top leaders in Beijing, Africa is capturing attention in the U.S., as well. Last week, new Secretary of the Air Force Barbara Barrett visited Niger. Earlier in the year, Ivanka Trump visited Morocco to advance women’s economic development. Congressional leaders and the business industry are also taking notice, recognizing both opportunity and challenges on the continent. These were certainly good moments that brought attention and insight into issues.

Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett speaks to Airmen deployed to the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron during her visit to Nigerien Air Base 201, Niger, Dec. 21, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III/Air Force)
Secretary of the Air Force Barbara M. Barrett speaks to Airmen deployed to the 724th Expeditionary Air Base Squadron during her visit to Nigerien Air Base 201, Niger, Dec. 21, 2019. (Staff Sgt. Alex Fox Echols III/Air Force)

The holiday season is a time of reflection. It’s a time to remember and celebrate what is good and dear to us. It is great to be part of a mission that keeps America safe. The roughly 5,200 U.S. Africa Command teammates supporting an African continent three-and-a-half times the size of the U.S. are definitely a force for good. Our African partners take notice, and like Santa, place U.S. actions on the good list. This is good for America and for its future security.

Col. Christopher Karns is director of public affairs for U.S. Africa Command.

Editor’s note: This is an Op-Ed and as such, the opinions expressed are those of the author. If you would like to respond, or have an editorial of your own you would like to submit, please contact Military Times managing editor Howard Altman, haltman@militarytimes.com.

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