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U.S. Africa Commander: 'You'll Never Really Defeat' Terrorist Groups

al qaeda in the islamic maghreb fighters planning an attack

WASHINGTON -- The head of U.S. African Command told Congress on Wednesday that "you'll never really defeat" the terrorist groups on the continent that pose a threat to the region and potentially the United States.

Marine Corps Gen. Thomas Waldhauser assured the House Armed Services Committee at a hearing on national security challenges tied to Africa that he has finished reviewing the 2017 Niger attack in which four U.S. soldiers were killed. That report is now being reviewed by Defense Secretary James Mattis, and the families of the slain soldiers will be briefed before the results are released.

ISIS released a video showing the attack from the point of view of a soldier's helmet camera, before he is shot dead and the jihadists take the footage.

Waldhauser  told lawmakers that Al-Shabaab "remains a threat to Somalia and the region, as demonstrated by their October 2017 bombing in Mogadishu that killed over 500 people," but said Somalia continues "to slowly make progress."

Chairman Mac Thornberry (R-Texas) noted that in recent years there has been "great concern about a terrorist threat to the United States connected to, in some ways, Somalia."

"Are you saying that has basically gone away?" he asked.

"I'm not saying it's gone away. What I'm saying is that some of the organizations in Western Africa -- the Sahel, for example -- that have a flag of convenience, perhaps, with a group like al-Qaeda or with a group like ISIS, they are small in number, and a lot of their activities are focused right there, direct, that have to do with regional problems, with grievances to the local governments, and the like," Waldhauser replied. "But they aspire to the teachings and to the -- of groups like -- of ISIS. And so when they are supported by ISIS, whether it's financial backing and the like, then you have to assume that their desire to attack American citizens in the region, American citizens in Europe, American citizens at the home country, that still exists."

The AFRICOM commander emphasized that the U.S. has kept "continuous pressure" on the Al-Shabaab and has seen "big changes" there with the term of President Mohamed Farmaajo, a former Buffalo Municipal Housing Authority and New York State Department of Transportation official.

"So all of our efforts kinetically with Al-Shabaab are tied to his strategy. And so I would not say that that threat has gone away, but I would say right now that based on some of the kinetic activity we have done, in conjunction with international partners, has got Al-Shabaab on this -- has got Al-Shabaab in a situation where they're trying to control some territory.," the general said. "Now, there obviously was the big bombing in October, in Mogadishu, then there was four months where there wasn't any, and then here in the last week in February they had another bomb go off in Mogadishu."