Chair McCollum Statement at the United States Africa Command Hearing (CLOSED)

2021-04-21 10:30

Congresswoman Betty McCollum (D-MN), Chair of the Defense Subcommittee, delivered the following remarks at the Subcommittee's hearing on the United States Africa Command (CLOSED).

Today, we will receive testimony today from our witness, AFRICOM Commander Stephen Townsend. 

General, we welcome you back to the Subcommittee. 

In fact, your hearing last year was the last in-person hearing the subcommittee held on March 11th.

That is the same day the World Health Organization made the assessment that COVID-19 could be characterized as a global pandemic and the pause in all in-person events began around the world.

So, it is good to see you back in person today and we look forward to your testimony.

This hearing takes place at an important time for U.S. foreign policy and our global defense posture. 

As we are all aware, the 2018 National Defense Strategy emphasized competition between great powers as a greater long-term challenge to U.S. national security than the threat of terrorism. 

Over the past two decades, China has deepened its reach in Africa, financing large infrastructure projects, opening a military base in Djibouti, deploying peacekeepers, and spreading its culture and language by funding Confucius Institutes across the continent.  

Further, Russia has aggressively increased its activity in Africa and is the continent’s top arms dealer. 

But, as our intelligence officials point out, threats to our national security from terrorism and violent extremism from the African continent continue to be substantial. 

We only need to look to last month’s horrific ISIS-claimed terrorist attack in Mozambique, with the killing of more than 55 people,
to witness how the threat of unchallenged violent extremism remains.

Additionally, I would highlight a quote on Africa from the Annual Threat Assessment that was released by the Office of the Director
of National Intelligence last week.

“East Africa will struggle with ethnic conflict in Ethiopia, power struggles within the transitional government in Sudan, and continued instability in Somalia, while a volatile mixture of intercommunal violence and terrorism will threaten West Africa’s stability.  Conflicts, undergoverned spaces, the marginalization of some communities, and persistent communications connectivity are likely to fuel terrorism during the next year, particularly in the Sahel and parts of eastern and southern Africa.  Throughout Sub-Saharan Africa, a string of contentious elections will elevate the risk of political instability and violence.”

To meet these growing challenges, the United States on a whole of government level must be more engaged in Africa, not less.

We need to ensure that we are working well with our partner agencies towards both diplomacy and development and economic bridges on the continent.

I’d like to hear about your relationship with our most significant partner – the Department of State – and how it plays an essential part in joint activities in your area of responsibility.

But the military certainly has a meaningful role. As someone who has traveled to Africa many times, I have to say how dismayed I was that the previous administration chose to reduce American forces from the continent despite the increasing threats posed to U.S. interests and our partners.

I assume AFRICOM has been making the case that this be reversed – that its bases and the missions run from them are critical to U.S. interests. 

We would appreciate hearing these details today.

This brings me to our oversight responsibilities. 

First, as long as we have troops in the region in harm’s way, we should make sure they receive the best training and equipment and are not left exposed. 

Second, we need to make sure that the funds we appropriate to carry out programs in the region are executed efficiently and effectively. 

Finally, if the Administration is going to change our posture in the region,
we need to look at the tradeoffs and how such changes would affect our national security and the FY 2022 budget. 

It is in this context I hope we can discuss several of these important issues today.

General Townsend, we look forward to hearing your testimony.  

117th Congress