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US Army Gen. Stephen Townsend, commander of US Africa Command (centre), exchanges gifts with Djiboutian military officials during a visit to Djibouti August 8, 2019. [Photo: AFRICOM]
The new commander of the American military wing charged with fostering defence relations with Africa has promised tougher action on al-Shabaab, in the wake of recent deadly attacks by the terrorist group.
On his maiden tour of Somalia, Gen Stephen J Townsend who took over the mantle of the US-Africa Command last week, said the threats posed by al-Shabaab require sustained combat.
“Along with Somalia and other international partners, we will apply continued pressure on violent extremist organisations.
“This pressure creates conditions and opportunity for further political and economic development,” Gen Townsend on Wednesday after meeting with local Prime Minister Hassan Khaire.
Prior to his appointment, Gen Townsend served as commander of the Combined Joint Task Force – Operation Inherent Resolve (CJTF-OIR), a US military wing that coordinates targeted attacks on ISIS in Syria and Iraq.
He is Africom’s fifth commander since its formation in 2008 and is taking over from Thomas D Waldhauser, who is retiring.
Gen Townsend will be charged with maintaining defence relations with the African Union and its member states, cooperating on operations against extremists in the Horn of Africa and in the Maghreb regions.
But the biggest task is Somalia as political and security reforms must take place before 2021.
According to Gen Townsend, al-Shabaab remains the largest and deadliest terror organisation in East Africa despite showing signs of weaknesses.
“They are looking for an opening and an opportunity to do harm. If they could attack US interests and the homeland, they would. We can’t give them an opening. We must deny them that opportunity,” said Gen Townsend.
“Degrading the capability of terrorists who operate here makes the entire region safer and prevents its export to other places. This is important work for our country, the Somalis, and our allies,” he added.
Africom, which has a base in Djibouti, routinely attacks Shabaab bases inside Somalia, to support ground forces from the African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) and the nascent Somali National Army. Africom says it has permission from Mogadishu for the aerial attacks.
The US is also currently training Somali Special Forces known as Danab.
By Aggrey Mutambo