– As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following opening statement at a full Committee hearing on U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa:
“Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Thank you for calling this hearing, and thank you for leading a CODEL to Africa.
“This Committee realizes how important Africa is, and I’m glad that we’re having this hearing this morning. Countering terrorist groups in Africa is a clear foreign policy priority, and it deserves this Committee’s attention.
“Mr. Deputy Secretary, Mr. Acting Under Secretary, welcome to the Foreign Affairs Committee.
“Around the world, hot spots are burning and American leadership is needed. But in the State Department, with all the vacancies and all the cutbacks, it seems that strategies are muddled—or seem muddled.
“Senior posts are vacant. Partners and adversaries view the United States with uncertainty. So, I hope you can both shed some light today on this phenomenally complex issue.
“I have a number of concerns about how we’re dealing with terrorism in Africa.
“The first is our military involvement there.
“As the Chairman pointed out, the recent deaths of four American servicemembers in an ambush in Niger thrusts this issue into the spotlight. There’s also been an increase in the number of American airstrikes in Somalia.
“For those strikes, the Administration uses the same legal authority to justify military action as it, and other administrations, have for many other counterterrorist operations all over the world: the post-9/11, 2001 ‘AUMF,’ Authorization for the Use of Military Force.
“I don’t think any of us who voted on that measure—and I did—16 years ago envisioned that it would be used as a blank check to justify sending our men and women in uniform into harm’s way whenever a terrorist threat emerges.
“We need a new AUMF. We need to have a serious debate about how, when, and where our military is currently fighting. And I need more answers about those four fallen heroes.
“I cannot help but wonder what happened to that thirst for oversight we saw a couple of years ago, when several Americans died on the African continent in circumstances shrouded by uncertainty.
“Yet our military’s role in dealing with these extremist groups should be only one aspect of our approach to fighting terrorism.
“I agree with the many national-security experts who say our strategy must go far beyond fighting fire with fire. We must also look at the root causes that allow terrorism to take hold in these countries.
“The places in Africa where terrorists operate often face a underlying level of instability.
“Governments are unresponsive and ineffective in providing for the needs of their citizens. Some of our closest partners in this effort—Cameroon, Chad, and Uganda—are led by men who have clung to power for decades.
“In one recent study, more than 70 percent of Africans surveyed reported mistrust of the police and military. And that’s no great surprise, given the behavior of some of our counterterrorism partners.
“Arbitrary arrests, forced disappearances, and torture in Cameroon. A thousand protesters killed and another 11,000 detained in Ethiopia. And in Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi, civilians speaking up for their rights and demanding accountable leadership are met with violent crackdowns, bloodshed, and killing.
“These are the things that drive people toward violent extremism, and that attract terrorists seeking to exploit vulnerable populations. When human rights, the rule of law, and justice systems are weak, al-Shabaab, al-Qaeda, and others find safe haven.
“That’s what we need to focus on. A military-heavy strategy means that we’re pushing back against these groups after they’re already established. Of course, that’s important, and we should continue doing that. But, we must also work to deny these groups the opportunity to flourish in the first place.
“The State Department and USAID have the expertise to do that. Our diplomats and development professionals work to promote justice and the rule of law, to build more inclusive societies through better education, health care, and economic opportunity—encouraging full participation in societies rather than withdrawing into extremism. These are indispensable tools in the fight against terrorism.
“That’s why I’m baffled that the Administration wants to cut the budget for these agencies by a third.
“Frankly, I’m frustrated that the State Department appears to be descending into dysfunction—not the fault of anybody here, but if you cut back and don’t fill senior positions, what else do you have? As we’re reading day after day after day about the dysfunction, foreign policy leaders from former Secretary Madeleine Albright to Ambassadors Nicholas Burns and Ryan Crocker are all sounding the alarm.
“So, I’d like to hear how slashing the State Department and USAID helps us stop violent extremism. How does gutting vital efforts to help us get at the root causes of this problem? Why would we cut resources for democracy-promotion, for human rights, for foreign assistance, when we know that these cost-effective investments will help us grapple with the problem of terrorism?
“What I don’t want to hear—and I won’t accept—is that we can’t afford it.
“The President is ready to sign legislation that will blow a trillion-and-a-half-dollar hole in the budget, to give tax breaks to corporations and billionaires. So, ‘we can’t afford it’ line doesn’t pass the test anymore.
“If we’re serious about fighting terrorism, let the military tackle the security threats, but let’s make a serious effort to stop it before it starts.
“Gentlemen, I look forward to your testimony. I thank you, Mr. Chairman, and I yield back.”