Daily Rundown   |  January 25, 2013

Deep Dive: Targeting al-Qaida in Africa

Luke Russert takes a deep dive look into targeting terrorism in North Africa. Senator Chris Coons, who chairs the foreign relations subcommittee on Africa joins to talk about the US’ role in this region.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> if the last ten years were about targeting terrorists in the middle east , the next ten will likely be focused on them in north africa . we're looking at the dramatic developments in countries like algeria and mali , all of them in north africa , a region seemingly tailor made for al qaeda activity. the u.s. and its allies are concerned that a toxic mix of poverty, high unemployment, and a large population under 35 and weak governments across the region make it easy for militan militants to gain a foothold, particularly since the u.s. has been relaying on locals to try and keep the peace.

>> what we have to do is recognize we're in for a long-term struggle here. and that means, we've got to pay attention to places that historically we have not chosen to or had to.

>> it's a dramatic shift from a few years ago, when the north african continent was considered one of the weakest of the al qaeda affiliates. they were short on money and guns. but, no more. in 2011 , it went from one of the poorest affiliates to one of the richest, relying on the drug trade , kidnapping, and ransom demands to fill their coffers. u.s. security sources say ransom have been the main motivation behind the recent hostage taking in algeria . in addition, the arab spring brought an unexpected windfall, knocking out powerful leaders like egypt 's hosni mubarak and libya 's moammar gadhafi , and unleashing a flood of illegal weapons.

>> when gadhafi was falling, i was there at the time, i had never seen so many weapons in my entire life. and they were just being taken from depots, they were being handed over to militant groups. and then they went all over the region. they went from country to country, and they fell into the hands of militant groups. and this is no longer theoretical. seven americans have been killed, including a u.s. master, just in the last four months.

>> call it the downside of the arab spring. revolutions that the u.s. are actively, tacitly supported in places like libya and egypt have left shaking governments in place and more instability to an already volatile region. delaware democratic senator chris coons shares the senate foreign relations subcommittee on africa and he joins me now. senator coons, thank you so much for being on the program.

>> thank you, luke .

>> i want to ask you, we were very much supportive here in the united states two years ago, on the two-year anniversary of the egyptian revolution in tahrir square, as well as what we saw in tunisia, as well as what we saw in libya . were we naive to be thankful that these despottic leaders were pushed out of power?

>> well, luke , what you're pointing to is the inherent tension between our desire for stability, for security, for economic progress and our fundamental commitment to democracy. i recently visited egypt for several days last week on a congressional delegation trip with republicans and democrats. we had a chance to meet with the leadership of egypt , both the defense minister , prime minister, the current president, and a lot of the opposition. and i left deeply concerned about the path forward for egypt , reminded of its importance, it is the most populous arab country. it is, in many ways, the linchpin of the region. and we want them to continue to respect their treaty commitments under the camp david accords for peace with israel, for being one of the places from which a lot of economic growth for the region can happen, but we also want to celebrate their movement towards democracy. mubarak was an autocrat, was somebody who suppressed his people, and prevented free speech and an open society . so we have these twin tensions, as we look at the development of the last two years in tunisia, in libya , and in egypt . as you said at the outset of this segment, one of the big challenges we now face with incidents in benghazi, in algeria , and in mali , is how the instability in libya and egypt have now led to more weapons, more money, and more islamic extremists and jihadists destabilizing others in the region. we're in for a very rough ride.

>> and i wanted to talk about that with you. "the washington post " editorial page had an interesting point today, saying that secretary clinton really conveyed the seriousness of what was happening in north africa , while the obama administration was being a little bit reluctant in terms of providing the french the ability to get their troops into mali . have not really wanted to pay for anything there. in this era of drawdown, of getting out of iraq , of getting out of afghanistan, do you fear of heavy u.s. involvement, in more than just covert ways in north africa ?

>> well, i think it's important for us to have a sense of scale. we've been spending as much as $100 billion a year on the war in afghanistan . the sorts of dollars we're talking about for potentially supporting the french and mallian military operations are two orders of magnitude , three orders of magnitude smaller than that. we're talking about a few hundred million dollars. still a significant amount of money for taxpayers, but we are not talking about anything like the kind or scale of investment in either blood or treasure that we made in the wars in iraq and afghanistan. this is simply about providing logistics, intelligence, and refueling to a nato ally and to a regional ally. part of the hesitation on the part of the administration that secretary clinton described to us on the foreign relations committee earlier this week is because we have a legal barrier to providing direct assistance to a country whose military overthrows the civilian government in a coup. so there is some work going on between the department of defense , the state department , and some of us in congress who believe we need to be more actively engaged in mali and in supporting our regional allies, the african militaries, who are sending thousands of troops into mali to support their effort.

>> you know, being a young man, i have a number of friends who serve or are serving, and i spoke with one of them a few weeks ago and i asked them how their arabic classes were going, and they told me that they don't take arabic, they take french. do you believe that we could see a day where young men and women come home in boxes from this region?

>> well, sadly, luke , we've just seen that day. there were four brave americans --

>> more so, yeah.

>> -- killed in benghazi. there were three recently killed in this terrorist incident in algeria . i think it's important for us to focus on a training role and a support role for u.s. armed forces , and recognize that we have a positive model as secretary clinton reminded us, in what's happened in somalia . in the last two years in somalia , a regional african-led force that is predominantly ugandans, kenyans, ooethiopians has successfully invaded and taken it back from al shabaab . al shabaab sounds an awful lot like aqim. they were making a lot of money off of piracy and off of kidnapping and ransom. they had taken control of a lawless country. somalia has been unstable and a source of threat to our country and the region for nearly 20 years. today, much of that is back under control of a newly elected government, newly recognized by the united states . that was accomplished without a single american casualty.

>> and lastly, i want to ask you, france has a lot of important areas in that region, specifically pertaining to their uranium, they extract from some of those countries. i know that french special forces have been right in niger. they immediately go to where these rich natural resources exist in these countries that they need. are you worried about this becoming sort of an economic war , kind of like what we saw in iraq for oil, this idea of these imperialists coming to get the resources and that's what al qaeda can use as a real, a recruiting tool?

>> well, luke , you make a great point. we're only going to achieve security and stability in mali and niger, in mowauritania, in this whole region if we address and help those governments address those long-standing internal disputes. it's because of 50 years of complaints and disputes in northern mali that this whole destabilization of mali began in the first place. we have to have elections that restore a legitimate democratic government in mali and the malian government itself needs to address the real concerns and complaints of its own people. otherwise, the military intervention by the french will, in fact, come to be seen as just another episode in colonialism. so we have to balance security, development, and diplomacy in a way that protects democracy. that's a path to stability in a part of a world that's increasingly deserving of our attention and investment.

>> not an easy task, chris coons, thank you so much for joining us. have a great weekend.

>> thank you, luke .