Brigadier General Dagvin R.M. Anderson is the Commander, Special Operations Command Africa, headquartered at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, and is responsible for the full spectrum of special operations activities conducted throughout Africa. He leads more than 1,700 U.S. military, interagency, and international military personnel operating throughout Africa and Europe.
Brig. Gen. Anderson has participated in several contingencies to include Operations Provide Comfort, Deny Flight, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.
Brig. Gen. Anderson holds a master’s degree in International Public Policy from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. He was a Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, and was an Olmsted Scholar in the Czech Republic.
CTC: You previously served as the deputy director of operations for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command at Fort H.M. Smith in Hawaii, where, obviously, the focus was not on Africa. To what extent has your background and career, particularly your Special Operations career, informed how you approach this new geographic command?
Anderson: I spent three years in the Pacific—one year in Korea and then two years up at INDOPACOM—and that was quite valuable for me to see the other side of the world, literally. Fifty-two percent of the world is under INDOPACOM’s AOR [area of responsibility]. To understand what we’re up against when it comes to China, China’s very much a threat to our way of life. I think that they are working very diligently to undermine the U.S.-led system, the Western way, including the economic system. They’re looking to undermine that, to undo that system and replace it with an alternative that is very much in their favor. One of the things that the United States points to with great pride is that we have ensured peace and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific for over 70 years since World War II and created an environment that has allowed all nations in that region, including China, to prosper and to benefit.
That system being open and fair has allowed many nations to improve their positions in life, as they have economic growth: you can see it in Japan and Korea, and in China. Well, what that perspective gave me was that China is very much trying to undo that for their own gain. They try to break our alliances, break our partnerships in order to then leverage the partners individually, and the reason why that’s important to what I’m doing now is that I see that model very much being exported into Africa. China’s very good about getting into the international systems, using their leverage there to peel a few countries away to paralyze that international system, and then work very methodically in bilateral engagement, primarily through economic engagement, to then leverage those bilateral relationships to their advantage.
The PRC [People’s Republic of China] has chosen to compete for natural resources, and to extract those resources for their own value. Obviously, there’s lots of oil and natural gas; there’s rare earth minerals that are vital to our technology sector on the continent; there’s precious metals. These are things the other powers—China and Russia—are trying to corner the market on or to gain access [to]. There’s also, if you look at the African continent, no matter which way you go, key passages that are important for our national security to ensure that we have, and that the world has, free access to—whether that’s coming through the Straits of Gibraltar by Morocco, going through the Mediterranean down through the Suez Canal, or through the Red Sea out through the Bab al Mandab straits by Somalia. All of that is key terrain on key waterways. And then to go around the other way, the long way around Africa—obviously, a huge land mass—and being able to have the key ports where you can have your port calls for refueling, refitting, etc., are absolutely vital.
Africa sits on key terrain, and it’s important that we engage. What I’ve seen is that all of these nations, pretty much every nation in Africa, has a concern about violent extremism and terrorism. And we bring great credibility and great value—Special Operations—to help them address that security concern. Being able to partner with them and address that security concern gives us access, gives us engagement opportunity and influence in order to then compete with these other global powers—China and Russia—to ensure we have access and the world has access to these resources as well that are vital to our economies.
CTC: Thinking about the general role of SOCAF on the continent, how do U.S. Special Operations work to uniquely meet the challenges that the United States and our partners face in Africa? To that end, what is your assessment of what African partners’ special operations capabilities are and what needs they have?
Anderson: It varies. Africa is not monolithic. It’s a single continent, but it’s composed of multiple countries, multiple cultures, and multiple tribes with different ethnicities, so there’s no blanket statement you could make that covers all of Africa, by any means. So I’ll answer that by talking about a couple key partners that are, I think, exemplary of how the U.S. engages and what they need. I’ll start in the east and talk about Kenya.
Kenya’s been a very good partner for several years, a very competent country that is developing a capable military intelligence capability in order to counter a very existential threat right on their border, which is al-Shabaab. Obviously, Kenya is very interested in the stability of Somalia; that stability hinges on Somali ability to deal with and contain and disrupt and degrade al-Shabaab. So what the Kenyans have done over time is they have built a capable military force to address that. They’re also developing a border patrol capability that’s coming on line and becoming more capable. They’ve really invested in intel fusion capability, and all that speaks to their will to engage and to improve. I think one of things it speaks of the most is that Kenya has been one of our most introspective partners, and they’ve actually taken a look at some of their mistakes—from Westgate through the [Garissa University College] attack they had a couple years later to the Dusit [D]2 [attack]1—that Kenya has been willing to look at that and identify mistakes that they made or errors or gaps that they’ve had in their security capability, and then they’ve actually gone out and addressed [them].
That includes their integration between their military, civil, law enforcement, and their first responders, working with their medical response, because they understand that they have to be able to have a coherent, whole-of-government response to a terrorist attack and to prevent terrorist activity. They’ve done a lot of reflection on where they’ve made mistakes. They’ve been open, to some extent, to talking with other partners [about] where they could improve, and then making those improvements. Now, they’ve been incremental, but I think the Kenyans have done a very good job of doing that. Not many partners are willing to be that self-reflective. Kenya has really looked at how to improve the Kenya Ranger Regiment, how to improve their intelligence community, how to create a fusion cell. They developed an exploitation cell that is now becoming a highlight of their intelligence capability; they can actually take exploitable material off the battlefield and analyze that and turn that back into actionable intelligence and get that back to whether its border patrol, the police, or the military, to then take action on it.
To go back out to the west, I would say Niger is an example of a very willing partner. Niger is an incredibly poor country, a country that faces many challenges, a landlocked country that has a small economy, but what we see in Niger is a sense of pride in Niger, a national identity that transcends some of the tribal differences and grievances. They’re able to come together, and we see a very willing partner when it comes to the CT fight. And while a great amount of illiteracy—around 70 percent of their population is illiterate—what we do see with their soldiers is they’re very competent and capable, and while they may be illiterate, once you show them and teach them something, they retain it, they implement it, and they improve upon it so that we don’t have to go back and retrain the unit skills we’ve taught. When we reengage with them, we can build on what they’ve already learned, and they quickly go out and apply that in the field. They’re very aggressive about engaging in the CT fight, and they’re very willing. And so again, I think Kenya and Niger are two good examples of where we see that will to actually go out and engage and then improve their forces, improve their capabilities.
I think the other piece is when you look at other partners, we bring that premium brand. The U.S. is the premier counterterrorism force. We’ve been doing this for several years, and we’ve perfected a lot of capabilities. We work with our partners to help them realize that it’s more than just having a capable finish force that goes out and executes. It’s also developing the intelligence capability as an interagency piece and the networking behind it that makes finish operations effective.
And regarding partners, we can’t apply our standards to them. But when we give them key enablement and key training in some of these areas, we see results and we see them improve their ability. I think one of the areas where we see that is Burkino Faso right now, where for a while they denied that they had a problem, but now as the northern province is collapsing and they are under great pressure, they’ve come to the realization that they need assistance. They’ve asked the United States, they’ve asked their Western partners, they’ve asked France, for assistance. And so we’re doing some analysis on what we could do at a low level to enable them to be more effective and enable the European partners to engage and help assist the Burkinabe.
CTC: You gave some good examples of partners that are moving in the right direction, that have admirable outcomes. There’s no need to single a particular country out, but are there particular areas that many countries in Africa need to improve on? Are there specific omissions or places for improvement that you see consistently needing work on across the continent?
Anderson: Where we see that countries have struggled is just identifying the threat, identifying they have a problem, and being able to articulate that. A lot of times, they’re not willing to identify that problem because they see it as a weakness or they believe if they highlight that, that will reflect negatively on the government. Another issue that we see in many countries is they struggle with internal dynamics. This is what the VEOs [violent extremist organizations] often prey upon, the divisions within their cultures or within their nation. That could be tribal grievances that go back several years or issues between ethnicities or between the farmers and the herdsmen.
The same things are troublesome for the central government—are they able to provide government services to the different ethnicities so they feel part of that government? Or do they feel that the government is not taking care of them so they become vulnerable to the VEOs? We see that many of these countries are unable to provide services outside the immediate surroundings of the capital and therefore they don’t have legitimacy in the eyes of people in the farther regions of their country. That’s true in many countries across the continent. Sometimes they have to work on those basic developmental issues and provide the government services—legitimacy of the government in the eyes of the people. I think the other area where we see problems with some countries is that they see the threat and they react—and then overreact. They become heavy-handed in their reaction. They don’t necessarily discern where the violence is coming from, and so they take action against large swaths of the population. This can create human rights violations and issues where we can’t work with them.ﾊ
So we, on the defense side, need to work very closely with USAID, OTI [Office of Transition Initiatives], and State Department on the development side and on the diplomatic side. Very much across Africa, we see those three Ds [defense, diplomacy, and development] coming together very closely, where defense provides the security that enables the development. At the same time, the development provides the ability for the diplomacy to then engage to get the central government out to provide legitimacy, which then facilitates host-nation security forces. So there’s this circle of events that takes place, and those three Ds come together closer in Africa than any place I’ve worked before.
CTC: As much as any other world region right now, the African continent is beset by dozens of jihadi terrorist groups—some allied to al-Qa`ida and others allied to the Islamic State. When you look very bluntly at the African security landscape, how would you compare the relative threat posed by AQ in Africa as opposed to the Islamic State? How do you conceptualize the two main parent groups? Are there particular similarities between them or differences? Are they just two sides of the same coin, to some extent?
Anderson: ISIS grabbed the world’s attention with what they were able to do in Syria, and they’ve gained prominence and they’re at the forefront of what people think about when it comes to global terrorism. And they’re active in Africa. I think they’re much more blunt in their methodology [than al-Qa`ida]. They’re much more brutal. They tend to be more violent. And because of that, they sometimes run into issues of gaining legitimacy with segments of the population. The ISIS brand, if you want to call it that, is similar to any other global brand that everyone recognizes, so there are extreme groups on the continent that just want to be affiliated with that [brand] for recognition. Part of our effort is to discern what organizations are true believers, which ones truly follow the ISIS ideology, and which ones are just clinging to that name or trying to get affiliation for credibility or notoriety.
That said, though, we are seeing ISIS making inroads in different places. While they have a small footprint in Somalia, that footprint in Somalia [has led to] engagements in other parts of the continent—such as in the border region between DRC, Mozambique, and Tanzania. Again, we’re not sure how ISIS is exactly exploiting those grievances, but we know that there’s interest in them becoming more engaged. We also see that ISIS is in West Africa—both ISIS West Africa in Nigeria as well as in Mali with ISIS Greater Sahara. Those are slightly different affiliations, and they’re not as responsive to ISIS Core direction. In some ways, since al-Baghdadi’s death, what we see is ISIS public affairs publicizing the success of these western Africa affiliates primarily because I think ISIS is struggling for some identity and struggling for some success and these two affiliates have shown some success, so ISIS is latching onto them. We don’t necessarily see them being responsive in return, though.
Now, having talked about ISIS, al-Qa`ida is our deeper concern on the continent, and I think long-term, al-Qa`ida poses a greater threat to the West and to U.S. interests. That’s two-fold. One is a little bit in the east with their affiliation with al-Shabaab. I don’t want to overplay that. There is an affiliation between al-Shabaab and al-Qa`ida; we’ve seen al-Shabaab respond to some al-Qa`ida taskings. Al-Shabaab is very much its own Somali organization and effort, but there are ties to al-Qa`ida. There’s some troublesome concerns there that al-Shabaab is looking to do more external operations. And then will that relationship with al-Qa`ida grow or not? That’s something we have to continue to watch. The deeper concern, though, for me is looking at how al-Qa`ida is engaging in the west, particularly through JNIM [Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin] and through AQIM [al-Qa`ida in the Islamic Maghreb], we know that [Abdelmalek] Droukdel is part of the senior leadership of al-Qa`ida; he operates out of Algeria. We know that he has great influence in AQIM.
We also know that JNIM, an affiliate of al-Qa`ida, is responding to their direction, and what we see in West Africa is al-Qa`ida is establishing themselves in the Azawad area of northern Mali. They’re quietly establishing their connections and their relationships there. We’ve seen them intermarry into the local tribes. We’ve seen them become very entrenched in local politics and do this very quietly. And their goal, in my opinion, is that they want to establish a safe haven to operate from. They want to eventually establish a caliphate, but they know if they’re too public about their intentions or if they raise the flag over some city, that will draw the attention of the West. And so they quietly continue to entrench themselves and develop their network with the local tribes to continue to build this safe haven. And then, we see they’re expanding south out of Mali; they’re doing it in a very deliberate fashion.
As I talked about earlier with Burkina Faso, we saw the security situation in the northern province of Burkina Faso deteriorate extremely rapidly, in literally a few months. Early in 2019, there were some initial attacks in the northern areas that we thought was extremism spilling over across the border. But now in hindsight, we look at that, and they were probably initial probing attacks to test the resolve and capabilities of the Burkinabe. Because we then saw, in the July-August time frame, this very deliberate attack on infrastructure, particularly bridges. JNIM attacked these key bridges that started to isolate the northern province from key Burkinabe outposts and the capital city. And then shortly after that, we saw complex attacks, sometimes on multiple Burkinabe outposts, that essentially overran a few of the Burkinabe forward operating bases. That left the Burkinabe concerned about their ability to support and resupply these bases after the lines of communications and the bridges were cut. After the security forces were removed, there was a very deliberate campaign against the leadership that was most visibly highlighted by the assassination of the mayor of Djibo, who spoke at our exercise Flintlock last year and who was an outspoken and capable leader in the community. He [was] also a member of parliament. He was intercepted on the road to Ouagadougou, dragged from his car, and he and his entourage were publicly executed on the side of the road. And so that was a very public move, and as they start to eliminate and remove the leadership of the region, they’re starting to consolidate their efforts.
They haven’t taken control of any of the cities such as Djibo. I don’t think they want to be burdened with that level of responsibility of providing services. But they do control the movement and the economics in the area, and what we saw them do in [the] October-November  timeframe was expand east and west along the lines of communication. But they’re now isolating key economic centers and the key markets. They then destroy or damage the bridges and then establish checkpoints so that anyone [looking] to get to market in order to sell their goods has to pass these checkpoints. Then we’ve seen them destroy crops, making the local populace more dependent on them, forcing them further under their control. What we’ve seen is at least 400,000 internally displaced [at the time of the interview, now more than 500,000], which is creating a huge problem for the government of Burkina Faso to try to deal with. Extremists then invite people to come back to their homes and say, “all you have to do is accept sharia law; you’re welcome back,” which is, when you look at it, a brilliant strategy. Now they’re forcing those people to make a mental shift and acceptance of that extremist governance in order to return home. And those people now come home, they acquiesce to JNIM or ISIS Greater Sahara. And now they control that population while creating a dilemma for the Burkinabe government with the displaced people.
At the same time, now they have consolidated that area, we see them conducting strikes farther south, and they’re publicizing those very much in the information space, saying that they’re threatening the key population centers—particularly Kaya. We see them very deliberately moving south. We see a very deliberate effort along the borders with criminal activity to try and control the economic trade route there that are worth not just millions but billions of dollars of illicit trade. They’re also getting down into the gold mining areas of Burkina Faso to try to get into these small artisanal mines. The gold is obviously a very easily transportable material. We also see the violence has gone down in northern Mali because they’ve consolidated much of their control there and they’re starting to push south. And we feel that they’re looking at a lot of this for economic gain to control these economic trade routes in order to provide some sort of steady revenue.
So this is why we are concerned about what al-Qa`ida is doing because we don’t believe it’s just criminality. We don’t think it’s just local grievances. We think al-Qa`ida’s oversight and leadership has galvanized these grievances into something deeper that’s starting to take hold. This is more than just five separate extremist organizationsa or tribes. They have come together for a common purpose. And what we see also is that JNIM and ISIS are cooperating in this region. There are many reasons why they’re cooperating in this region. JNIM provides unity of purpose, unity of effort but not necessarily unity of command. JNIM and ISIS-GS operate together and even coordinate attacks together. They’re less concerned about who has complete control locally, focusing instead on propagating their extremist ideology and working toward the greater cause of establishing an Islamic State. I don’t want to overstate this cooperation as a merging of the larger organizations as this is very much a local phenomenon. There are obviously historical ties between these groups that span clans, span tribes, and go from the leadership all the way down to the local fighters. This allows the ISIS and al Qa`ida affiliates here [to] cooperate in way we don’t see anywhere else.
So all of that, to me, combines to be a very nasty situation developing in West Africa. We don’t assess that it poses a direct threat to the U.S. and the U.S. homeland, but I can see over time that it very well could develop into a threat to the homeland as they gain control over economic centers and trade routes, consolidate their gains in the Azawad area, and have the time and space to plan operations outside of the region. It’s difficult to say how fast this will develop, but we know they have the stated desire to develop these capabilities to attack the homeland.
CTC: The G5 Sahelb and Operation Barkhanec have faced challenges. From your perspective, what are their inefficiencies, and where are they succeeding? Where might they improve? And where might SOCAF fit into that broader puzzle?
Anderson: For this effort, the French very much have the lead for the European/Western nation effort here. They’ve been involved for several years and are very committed to this fight. This is a complex fight. When you look at the amount of French forces there, they’ve got about 5,000 French troops from their general purpose forces all the way to their elite taskforce that are operating across the Sahel. When you look at the size of that Sahel, 5,000 people is stretched thin very quickly. I know a lot of people underestimate the size of this AOR, the size of the area that they’re being asked to engage in, and the complexity of the battlespace. Just within that area of Mali, there’s multiple ethnicities, multiple tribes, not to mention the tri-border area between Mali, Burkina Faso, and Niger that complicates the international effort to work across borders.
So it’s not, by any means, an easy task. But I think the French have been fighting admirably, and they’ve been working to address the fight. And I think that our limited support to them has been effective. Our goal, though, is how do we enable the French to continue to take the lead, how do we enable other European partners to engage? I know there’s some interest; there’s discussions about bringing other European partners into the fight. I think that would be very beneficial to everyone. Getting the Europeans engaged in a constructive manner and helping them work with the partners and train the partners would be a very valuable step forward, and we should continue to encourage this effort.
One view of extremist groups in the Sahel has been that they are a loose conglomeration of tribes that have their own grievances that were being held together maybe by a small group of charismatic leaders, that if we eliminated that leadership, then these tribes, this coalition would crumble and they’d go back to tribal grievances. I think that we at SOCAFRICA disagree with that assessment to some extent. While we agree with that foundation—that’s how JNIM came together and was formed—we believe that it’s evolved beyond just that charismatic leader with Ag Ghaly.d They’ve elevated key leaders from various ethnicities, which gives them legitimacy in the eyes of many of these marginalized groups. We think there’s a deeper ideology that’s starting to take hold, and that is allowing them to propagate and develop in ways we didn’t anticipate. It makes it a harder fight to address.
The other piece of this is how do we work effectively with our partners in the region? Mali has to have the will in order to develop their military and then we have to have partners that help engage and train them effectively and go out and advise them as well. We’ve got many international efforts that are working within Mali, including MINUSMA [United Nations Multidimensional Integrated Stabilization Mission in Mali], that’s working with one of the most deadly peacekeeping missions on the continent. We’ve got the European training mission that’s out there training forces, but they train them and put them out, they don’t advise them, and so what we’re missing [is] the operationalization of these forces. Then we need help [to] develop the leadership. What it takes is two-fold. It takes the will of the Malians to invest in their leadership and invest in their forces to equip them and train them. But it also takes an investment in the partner from the international community. How do we partner and how do we, meaning the Europeans as well—and this is really a European-led initiative here—how do we then invest appropriately to train the Malian forces so that they are credible forces and that they have competent leadership? Where we’ve seen some recent Malian defeats, it wasn’t because the Malians couldn’t fight. It’s because they lacked some training, they lacked a little bit of equipment, but they really lacked the leadership to stand and fight from some very defensible locations. And so how do we engage with them appropriately to give them the confidence that they can defend themselves and that they then have the proper leadership to take the right actions to prepare their defenses, to prepare their locations, and actually defend.
And where we have seen much success for the U.S. piece of this effort is where we’re engaged, albeit in a small way, in Niger where we have worked with the BSI [Special Intervention Battalion], which is their Special Operations equivalent, to create a very capable fighting force that has taken on the lessons that we have been able to teach. They’ve built upon our efforts, and they’ve become an effective force. When we have invested in a willing partner, they have been able to produce results.
So how do we work with our European partners, how do we enable them to come in here and create a force that can then be engaged with the partners and create a credible defense? And then how do we work with and how do we have the French take the lead and continue to take the fight to the enemy? Obviously, the French very much want to lead this effort. They’re very invested in the region, and I think the international community needs to support that effort so that they can continue to be effective.
The G5 Sahel hasn’t really performed because they haven’t been operationalized. The G5 Sahel was set up to secure the borders between the five Sahel nations, but they’ve been unevenly resourced from the different nations—some nations have not given fully equipped or fully manned units to do that; some of the countries as they’ve come under threat have withdrawn their forces from the G5 Sahel—so the G5 Sahel has never been fully developed in order to execute. I’ve painted a picture of all these international efforts out there, one of the things we lack is really unity of effort amongst all of them. That’s where the international community needs to step forward and corral these efforts in order to really gain traction and be more effective. And just that unity of effort would go a long way, I think, in realizing more gains within the Sahel.
CTC: Turning to various jihadi hotspots, the Islamic State in Libya was at its pinnacle from 2014-2016, but after it was ousted from Sirte, the group has sort of gone into the desert. How do you view its strength today? There is also concern about what’s going on with the Islamic State Central African Province, or in other words, the cells in DRC and Mozambique. And then on the al-Qa`ida side, there is the enduring challenge posed by al-Shabaab. What needs to improve in the efforts against that group?
Anderson: I’ll start with what you talked about with Libya, and I would say, one, it’s hard for us to really say because of the continued civil war that’s ongoing there and the hostilities. We don’t have anybody on the ground to provide good assessments of that. So because of that, it’s hard for us to fully understand the situation. That being said, we monitor where we can. As has been out in the press recently, there’s been some efforts to disrupt their leadership,2 and I know those have been effective in keeping ISIS Libya off balance. These strikes against their leadership have been critical to keep them from being able to fully reconstitute and pose a greater threat. As of right now, that’s what we’ve been able to do: monitor and then disrupt effectively to keep them from gaining a solid foothold.
You talked about ISIS and Central African Republic and Mozambique. That’s a concern to us as we watch it develop, but again, as I mentioned earlier, we don’t fully understand what’s driving it. We know in northern Mozambique, there are local grievances that ISIS is [exploiting]. At least one faction has grabbed onto the ISIS brand. We’re trying to look at the situation and understand deeper what exactly does that mean and is that truly ISIS-driven or is it just a local grievance that’s using ISIS for notoriety. We’re watching that carefully. Obviously, we’re interested in this situation because the U.S. has interests in developing the gas fields off the coast there. So there’s U.S. interest in that area, but we’re still trying to assess how strong ISIS’ foothold and influence is there. And I’d say that’s pretty similar for the DRC and the eastern part of the Central African state. How strong is that ISIS connection? And have they just raised the flag for notoriety? We have to continue to try to determine that, but these are very remote areas and they’re difficult for us to get in to monitor and we don’t have a presence there to really engage. So I would say, right now, we’re monitoring the situation to see how the intelligence develops on those affiliates.
And the last one I think you had was al-Shabaab. That’s been going on for a while. One of the things we have seen in the Lower Shabellee is that the Somalis have been engaged in a successful, if very incremental offensive. They have very incrementally been able to expand their control; they’ve been able to take key villages along the Lower Shabelle River. They’ve been able to then secure and hold those areas. It’s not been a rapid movement. It hasn’t been large gains of territory, but their ability to gain influence and gain control of those key towns has provided an additional layer of security for Mogadishu and along its key lines of communication into the city. I don’t want to overstate the success by any means, but the fact that the Somalis are leading this effort and they are holding is a positive development, that we are continuing to encourage that and to encourage them to invest in their force generation and the development of their security forces and to continue to build their more elite fighting force, the Danab.
We’ve seen the credibility of the Danab go up over the last year in their engagements as being a credible fighting force, as able to go out and secure these locations. That’s built some faith within the Somali populace in the areas where they’re operating that they are a capable security force. But there’s still a long ways to go. There’s still a long ways to go to get after where al-Shabaab has found a de facto safe haven down in the Jilib corridor along the Juba River valley and how are we able to disrupt this activity here. And that’s really going to be how do we work with AMISOM, the Ethiopians, and the Kenyans who obviously share an interest in that security as al-Shabaab’s a threat to both of those nations’ security as well. How do we continue to encourage those countries to engage and apply pressure to al-Shabaab and to deny them that safe haven and apply pressure on al-Shabaab leadership that’s down in that area?
It’s in everyone’s interest to have a stable Somalia. There are large U.S. economic interests along the eastern seaboard of Africa. Kenya’s a key country in that, and supporting our partner there is key for U.S. investment. Prime Minister Abiy of Ethiopia, who was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, has reached out to the United States and looked for greater support. How do we engage with him and continue to provide him and Ethiopia the support going forward for their reforms? I think those are all in the U.S.’ interests. Partnering with these two countries is key to creating stability and fostering development in Somalia. It’s not by any means an easy feat, but we’ve seen some very incremental successes and we want to continue to build on those.
CTC: What do you wish the American public knew about U.S. national security interests in Africa today? And as you look to the future, is there one particular threat or development that really keeps you up at night?
Anderson: For the American public, I think [it’s] to have a better understanding of why Africa matters to the United States and why U.S. interests in Africa matter. If you just look at the access to rare earth minerals, that’s key to our technology sector and making sure that those aren’t exploited by other nations or that that market isn’t cornered and we become beholden to someone else for access to those key minerals. I think they [our adversaries] understand the strategic geography that Africa has. North Africa is the southern flank of NATO and Europe. The key straits of the Middle East are key transits for economic but also key to our own national security. It is important that we stay engaged in Africa. I think I would ask that the American public understand this is important and our engagement here does matter.
The other piece of it is that there may be a misperception over what the future holds in Africa. I think we work with some very good partners here and that there is development, there is progress in Africa, that this is not the same Africa of 50 years ago, and that there have been some significant changes here. But we only hear about Africa in the United States, it seems, when there’s something negative or something bad happens. We don’t hear about the positive. That’s unfortunate because there is a lot of positive that comes out of Africa. There’s a lot of potential. In the just six short months of being here and six different trips to the continent and being able to engage and talk with folks there, there is a lot of positive energy. They’re facing some real threats that are existential to some of these countries, but they are digging deep, being resilient, and addressing them. They just need a little assistance. That little bit of assistance we provide goes a long way. It provides, I think, large returns on the dollar for what little we spend here.
I also think that it does matter when it comes to China and Russia and how we compete. Those two countries have chosen to be here because there’s economic interests here, and if we choose not to compete here, then we abdicate all of these resources, all this capability, all of this future potential to our adversaries. That would not be in our interest. I think it’s in our interest to stay engaged on the continent. The world’s a very small place. When it comes down to it, we all live on this same planet, and our futures and our interests are interconnected. Sometimes, it’s hard to see that when your home’s in middle America, but I don’t think it takes much to draw those lines and connect the dots to see where it does matter to our future. Also, there are threats that are emanating out of this area that if we don’t continue to watch, if we don’t continue our vigilance, they could be concerning to ourselves, the United States, and to Europe. Europe is realizing this. They are engaging, especially in the Sahel. But those threats are not just to European interests but to U.S. interests.
[On] what keeps me up at night, if you want to say that, I’m not sure. I sleep pretty well overall because I think we as a country are still a force to be reckoned with, that we make a difference in the world. But if there’s a concern I have, [it] is that we take our eye off the threat. We can’t understand what we can’t see. We don’t have good visibility in these areas, and there are folks that wish to do us, especially the United States, harm. If we don’t continue to monitor that, we could give them a pass to develop a capability to attack us, we could once again be surprised. That would be a concern. We have to be vigilant in order to preserve our own liberty. CTC
[a] Editor’s note: These are AQIM-Sahara, Ansar Dine, Macina Liberation Front, Al-Mourabitoun, and JNIM.
[b] Initiated in February 2017, the G-5 Sahel is an alliance between five Sahelian countries—Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad—to address common transborder security challenges, including terrorism.
[c] Initiated in August 2014, Operation Barkhane is a 4,500-person strong French force primarily intended to deal with terrorism in the Sahel, which generally spans the breadth of the G-5 countries: Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, and Chad.
[d] Editor’s note: Iyad Ag Ghaly is the overall leader of JNIM. Previously, he was the leader of the now-defunct militant group Ansar Dine, which operated mostly in Mali. In 2017, Ansar Dine merged with Jama’at Nasr al-Islam wal Muslimin (JNIM).
[e] Editor’s note: The Lower Shabelle is an administrative region in southern Somalia that abuts the capital, Mogadishu.
 Editor’s note: For more on the Dusit D2 attack, see Matt Bryden and Premdeep Bahra, “East Africa’s Terrorist Triple Helix: The Dusit Hotel Attack and the Historical Evolution of the Jihadi Threat,” CTC Sentinel 12:6 (2019).
 Editor’s note: See, for example, “U.S. Africa Command airstrike targets ISIS-Libya,” U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, September 30, 2019; “U.S. Africa Command airstrike targets ISIS-Libya,” U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, September 27, 2019; and “U.S. Africa Command airstrike targets terrorist fighters,” U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs, September 25, 2019.