Senate Hearing Tackles Security Relationship with North Africa

On Thursday November 21, the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations convened a hearing titled, “Political, Economic, and Security Situation in Africa.” Despite its title, the hearing focused on the North African states of Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, and Morocco, and U.S. policy towards these nations. The hearing’s first panel convened three government officials from the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and USAID, while the second panel consisted of three NGO and think tank experts.

The first panel largely focused on the security relationship between the U.S. and Libya. Specifically, the witnesses provided details about various U.S. security programs in Libya meant to strengthen the Libyan government’s ability to provide public and border security. Additionally, the panel offered information about the United States’ decision to meet Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan’s request to assist in the creation of a General Purpose Force (GPF). In the second panel, Frederic Wehrey, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, discussed potential shortcomings in the U.S. training mission of the GPF.

Algeria also received a considerable amount of attention from the first panel. Government officials extolled Algeria’s counterterrorism capabilities and lauded its ability to combat Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM). Given Algeria’s strong military capabilities, the panelists advocated for Algeria to assume a pivotal role in training and assisting other governments in the region in the fight against transnational threats. Similarly, the panels addressed the need to develop our security relationship with Tunisia and maintain our existing security partnership with Morocco.

Below, we highlight key quotes from the hearing.

Libya:

The training of Libya’s General Purpose Force:

  • “To improve the government’s ability to establish stability throughout the country, we responded positively to a request this spring from Prime Minister Zeidan that we help train a General Purpose Force to be the core of a new Libyan Army.” – Richard Schmierer, Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, Near Eastern Affairs
  • “At the UK-hosted G-8 Summit in June, we pledged to train 5,000-8,000 members GPF, prompting the UK and Italy to pledge to train 2,000 members each. The GPF assistance will be paid for by the Libyan government through a Foreign Military Sales case which will need to be congressionally ratified.” – Richard Schmierer
  • “We expect the U.S.-led training to begin via FMS in the spring of 2014 at a U.S.-leased/run training facility in Bulgaria and to continue over a number of years based on cohort size and the pace of training. The Government of Libya has committed to fund this training program and provided initial financial deposits. The United States will work closely with Libya to ensure all candidates for training are properly vetted to ensure that they meet human rights standards in accordance with U.S. law.” – Amanda Dory, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, African Affairs

Other Security Assistance Programs in Libya:

  • “Thanks to Congressional support, the United States is working with Libya to develop their capacity to conduct counter-terrorism operations via an $8.42 M Section 1206 Special Operations Support Company and medical training programs, and a $7.75 M Global Security Contingency Fund SOF company build program. . . .  Under the joint State-DoD GSCF authority, we are also pursuing a $14.9 M program to provide technical expertise, training, and limited equipment to build Libya’s inter-ministerial (i.e., MOD, MOI, and Customs) border security program capacity to address security along its southern land border.” – Amanda Dory

Wehrey expressed some concerns about with the Libyan GPF:

  • “Unanswered questions about the [General Purpose] force’s oversight, mission, inclusiveness of different regions, and composition could potentially polarize and destabilize Libya’s already tenuous landscape. . . .  To prevent it from becoming a private militia of a particular tribe, region, or political clique, recruits must be integrated into mixed units that draw from a broad swath of Libyan society.”
  • “To prevent that worst-case scenario, proper vetting for motivation, aptitude, past human rights violations, and criminal history is also vital. Recent failures bear this out: an effort last year to train Libyan police officers in Jordan collapsed when poorly screened recruits mutinied against what they perceived as unduly Spartan living conditions.”

Ultimately, he concluded:

  • “Better training and equipment alone will not automatically confer legitimacy on the new army, compel militias to surrender their arms, or entice Libyans to join up. That legitimacy will only be obtained through broad political reconciliation, a constitution, and a representative government that is able to deliver services across the country.”

Algeria:

  • Algeria’s experience fighting an Islamist insurgency during the 1990s resulted in a well-equipped and battle-hardened military that constitutes the strongest counter-terrorism force in the region. We will continue to encourage Algeria to use this expertise to train and partner with less experiences militaries and law enforcement units in the region to help ensure greater stability in the Sahel and Maghreb.” – Richard Schmierer
  • “Algeria has purchased U.S. equipment via Direct Commercial Sales, but has not overcome its significant reservations about the Foreign Military Sales program.” – Richard Schmierer
  • “Its strategic location in the Maghreb, and its long history combating domestic terrorism and violent extremism, make Algeria a linchpin in the struggle against Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and its affiliates and bringing stability to the region.” – Amanda Dory
  • “The Algerian government is also interested in acquiring U.S. equipment for counter-terrorism purposes. To address this interest, the Department of Defense is working to provide Algeria with equipment and training to enhance the Government of Algeria’s armed forces.” – Amanda Dory

Tunisia:

  • “The Tunisian military and security forces require additional training and equipment to counter the newly-evolving terrorist threat. Improving and deepening our security cooperation is of top importance in our bilateral relationship.” – Richard Schmierer

 

This post was written by CIP Transparency and Accountability Eddie Bejarano

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