During an exclusive interview with The Africa Bazaar magazine, former US Defense Secretary Ash Carter discussed global political chaos, the fight against terrorism, lessons learned from the Obama administration’s terrorism efforts in Africa and advice for the current administration.

Kemi Osukoya
July 19, 2017


Former U.S. Defense Secretary Ash Carter said Africa should not be ignored or set aside when it comes to the fight against global terrorism and ensuring global peace.

Speaking in an exclusive interview with THE AFRICA BAZAAR, Mr. Carter, who served as defense secretary to President Barack Obama, said while the world is focused on political chaos in Iran, Syria, Ukraine and North Korea, African countries-such as Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Cameroon, and Kenya, and other countries on the continent that are dealing with insurgencies and terrorism equally deserve our attention.

“There’s a lot of serious issues there [in Africa], starting with South Africa, Nigeria and up through Northern Africa and the Sahel and Somalia,” said Mr. Carter. “It is complicated because it’s a very big continent that is very diverse and there is a lot of violence, a lot of poverty and things that none of us should feel comfortable with as part of the modern world and so to me, it’s not a place that should be ignored or set aside.”

Mr. Carter, who spent more than three decades working on US national security issues and strategies, and was at the center of the Obama administration’s military activities and the fight against terrorism in Africa, specifically Boko Haram in Northern Nigeria, added that the African continent is not given the level of attention it deserves.

Mr. Carter during his incumbency led the United States’s efforts to form a coalition with African Heads of state and military leaders in countries like Nigeria, Ethiopia, Niger, and Chad to help train military personnels and strengthening militaries’ efforts in the region to help get rid of Islamic extremist terrorist group Boko Haram.

He underscored that the US is vulnerable to terrorism from around the world. He said the process to fight terrorism on the continent of Africa needs to continue with the new administration.

When I asked if the Obama administration and its predecessor could have done more to help eradicate Boko Haram before and after it took strong hold in Northern Nigeria, and other areas in West Africa, Mr. Carter acknowledged and said that “I don’t think ‘enough’ would be the right word” to describe US’ efforts in the region. However, he quickly emphasized that the US and its partners “certainly struck the [Boko Haram] leadership and training camps wherever we found them.”

The US works with its coalition across the world to stop the threats that terrorist groups like ISIL and self-proclaimed affiliates of these groups pose to Americans as well as citizens around the world.

During the search for Nigerian students, “Chibok girls,” who were kidnapped by Boko Haram at night from their dormitories in Northern Nigeria, the US provided vast resources, including financial, intelligence, and military support to the Nigerian government and to the Nigerian officials who were responsible for searching not just for the Chibok girls but for the thousands of Nigerians who have been kidnapped by Boko Haram.

The US continues to work as a strategic partner with the Nigerian government and other African leaders as they confront and fight the threats of terrorism and all security issues.

Earlier this year shortly after his inauguration, President Donald J. Trump called and spoke briefly with Nigerian President Buhari and Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, respectively, to discuss US’s continuous efforts to strengthening trade ties and for military support.

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Speaking about the Obama administration’s terrorism efforts in the region, Mr. Carter said the US worked with domestic and international partners such as Ethiopia and France to build a more robust military alliances across Africa to help fight insurgencies and terrorism.

Mr. Carter indicated that one of the impediments the US encountered during his term as defense secretary was finding strong local partners to work with in Africa in the fight against terrorism.

“It was harder to find local partners,” revealed Mr. Carter during the interview. “[The US] did find some international partners like France, we work with Ethiopia, Somalia and we found some good local partners, but again, it was very difficult and hard without strong African countries and strong African militaries for the [United States] to be fully effective as an outsider.”

Mr. Carter underscored that this situation is not unique to the continent. He said the US encountered similar situations in Iraq in the Middle East and in Afghanistan in South Asia where “some of the governments were not strong. The military were not strong, organized and well-funded or well-trained, which make it’s harder to find good partners.”

“We have difficulty also in the Middle East and central Asia. In Iraq for example, we basically had to train and equipped Iraqi Security forces. But now they have succeeded in Mosul recently,” said Mr. Carter.

Mr. Carter is optimistic about the prospects of African countries along with the international community succeeding in the fight against insurgencies and terrorist groups like Al-Shabaab and Boko Haram on the continent, even though it might be difficult at first to find local partners, he said.

“The militaries in Africa are going to succeed overall,” Mr. Carter noted. “But it takes time to develop and build those local partners. [However], it is essential because only [local partners] can effectively govern places that are rid of terrorist in the end.”

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