Ham: Lack of cultural skills hinders intelligence in Africa

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U.S. intelligence efforts in Africa suffer from a shortage of linguistic and cultural skills, Army Gen. Carter Ham of U.S. Africa Command said Dec. 3.

"Probably the area where we're weakest in Africa is in human intelligence, because it's not been an area where we've focused," Ham said at a talk at the Homeland Security Policy Institute in Washington, D.C.

He expressed optimism though that the Defense Department could bolster its intelligence operations, and Africom in general, even though it faces widespread budget cuts. Africom doesn't need things like carrier strike groups or Army brigades that eat up a lot of the defense budget.

"We're a cheap date," he said. "We're much better when we have small, tailored forces...principally focused on assisting and enabling the Africans."

For example, Africom benefits from small groups of engineers, Navy personnel that can train African forces to board and search ships, and aircraft maintenance crews, Ham said.

Those kinds of resources will become more available to Africom in the next few years as the military's presence in Afghanistan wanes.

Africa has of late attracted more attention from the United States as violent extremists gather in places like Northern Mali--"the particular challenge of the moment," Ham said. Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb has found safe haven there and is believed to be al Qaeda's best financed affiliate, Ham said. An influx of weapons has also arrived in Mali from mercenaries who had fought on behalf of former Libyan dictator Moammar Gadhafi.

Nonetheless, particular organizations and geographic areas shouldn't consume too much attention of counterterrorism, Ham added.

Rather, he said, the focus should be on undermining the ideology behind violent extremism and understanding what makes it attractive.

For more:
- go to the event webpage (video available)

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