Generals Discuss Security Challenges in Africa, Middle East

David Vergun

WASHINGTON: China, Russia, Iran and terrorist organizations continue to engage in malign activities in the Middle East and Africa, generals told lawmakers on the Senate Armed Services Committee today.

Witnesses were Marine Corps Gen. Kenneth F. McKenzie Jr., commander of U.S. Central Command, and Army Gen. Stephen J. Townsend, commander of U.S. Africa Command.

Middle East

“Iran continues to pose the greatest threat to U.S. interests and the security of the region as a whole,” McKenzie said. They supply weapons to proxies and client states in an arc from Yemen through the Arabian Peninsula, across Iraq and Syria into Lebanon, and up to the very borders of Israel, he said.

Saudi Arabia endures regular attacks from the Houthis, who — courtesy of the Iranians — have some of the most advanced unmanned aerial systems and cruise missiles in the region, he said.

Recently, the Houthis have expanded these attacks to include urban centers and bases where U.S. forces reside in the United Arab Emirates, he said.

Officials in Tehran, Iran’s capital, also enable allied militias in Iraq and Syria to carry on a persistent, low-level campaign of indirect fire and unmanned aerial attacks against U.S. and coalition forces, McKenzie said.

Iran’s ballistic missile forces can constitute a threat to the security of every state in the region, he added.

China and Russia are also watching closely for any sign that the U.S. commitment to the collective security of the region is wavering, and they’re poised to capitalize on whatever opportunities emerge.

McKenzie also mentioned regional threats from Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and al-Qaida.


Russia and China see Africa’s rich potential in terms of resources and strategic partnerships, Townsend said.

Both countries seek to convert soft- and hard-power investments into political influence, strategic access, and economic and diplomatic engagements, he said.

They also seek to buttress autocracies and change international norms in a patient effort, he added.

Townsend also said deadly terrorism has metastasized to Africa.

Those threats include terrorist groups al-Qaida and al-Shabab in East Africa and al-Qaida and ISIS in West Africa and elsewhere, he said.

“They are among the world’s fastest growing, wealthiest and deadliest terrorist groups and remain grave and growing threats that aspire to kill Americans, both there and in our homeland” Townsend said.

“Our willingness to work together with African partners creates a huge demand for U.S. engagement and partnership Africa,” he noted. “Modest and predictable investments yield outsized returns for U.S. and African security interest.”