Good morning. Welcome to the Second Gulf of Aden Regional Counterterrorism Forum. I am honored to join Djibouti in welcoming you. I would like to acknowledge the strong and growing partnership that we enjoy with the Government of Djibouti in countering terrorism in the region and beyond. Our strategic partnership continues to contribute to a region and a world with a brighter and better future.
The Gulf of Aden region is a critical front in the fight against terrorism. Many of you seated here today play a vital role in advancing this effort – whether within your Ministries of Justice, Foreign Affairs, Interior, Defense, or other services. Your hard work, and that of your governments, help all of us make progress towards our shared goals of regional peace and stability. Our conference this week provides us the opportunity to reflect on our successes, identify challenges, and determine ways forward.
The U.S. government is committed to the fight against both al Qa’ida in the Arabian Peninsula and al-Shabaab.
In Somalia, U.S. security assistance is focused on two key efforts: first, support for peacekeeping operations, including the provision of training, equipment, and transportation to the troop contributors to AMISOM, and second, support to security sector reform activities and related mentoring, training, equipment, and logistical support for the Somali National Forces. Working together with international partners and the Somali National Security Forces, the U.S. government has a vision to see Somalia’s security sector capacity increase, through the training, equipping, and professionalization of its security institutions, to one day effectively address, on its own, the threats posed by al-Shabaab.
In Yemen, we are working to build local capacity to counter the terrorist threat as well. But first, let me take a moment to commend the people of Yemen on the conclusion of their National Dialogue on January 25, a critical milestone in the political transition process. A democratic, unified, and stable Yemen will be best able to meet the needs of its citizens and participate fully as a partner in supporting regional security. The United States remains firmly committed to supporting the Yemeni people and the government throughout the subsequent stages of the transition process.
As part of the political transition process, President Hadi and the Yemeni government have taken important steps toward restructuring the military and security services and toward enhancing the professionalism and capacity of Yemen’s armed forces. We encourage the Yemeni government to continue progress on this important aspect of the transition agreement, which will strengthen Yemeni capacity to secure the country against internal and external threats. The United States provides assistance to help develop the capacity of Yemen’s security forces to conduct counterterrorism operations and to secure maritime and land borders and territorial waters.
We are encouraged by the counterterrorism efforts President Hadi and the Yemeni government have taken, and remain committed to continued close coordination in the fight against terrorism.
I would like to share with you why the United States wanted to organize this second forum in Djibouti. Djibouti plays a critical security and counterterrorism role in the region and beyond -- as an active participant in regional bodies such as the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), and as a troop-contributing country to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and in other international fora.
Djiboutian troops have played a crucial role in stabilizing Somalia…and some of their soldiers have made the ultimate sacrifice in that effort. The combined efforts of the Somali National Security Forces and AMISOM against al-Shabaab – with financial support, training, and other support from partner nations have been key to the creation of the security conditions necessary for Somalia’s government to operate. Al-Shabaab has attacked Djiboutian forces in Beletweyne and threated to attack all troop contributing countries at home. We applaud Djibouti’s commitment to Somalia by announcing the deployment of a second battalion.
Djibouti hosts Camp Lemonnier, the largest U.S. military facility in Africa, which provides an operational headquarters for the Combined Joint Task Force for the Horn of Africa – whose mission includes supporting efforts to defeat violent extremist organizations. The United States would like to thank Djibouti for their contributions to AMISOM, as well as their continued commitment to hosting U.S. troops stationed at Camp Lemonnier.
The United States enjoys a strong partnership with Djibouti. I would like to take a moment to provide a few examples of how the United States partners with Djibouti to counter terrorism in the region.
Funds from the U.S. Regional Strategic Initiative (RSI) funded patrol boats and training for the Djiboutian Coast Guard. December marked the third anniversary of the establishment of Djibouti’s Coast Guard – we congratulate them on the progress they have made in such a short time – particularly in interdicting small boats used to smuggle illegal goods and people.
With funding from the U.S. interagency Partnership for Regional East Africa Counterterrorism program – or “PREACT”—the United States has trained the Djiboutian Navy, the Republican Guard, and Border Security Forces.
U.S. Department of Defense programs such as the Counterterrorism Fellowship Program (CTFP) fund courses that range from short-term professional training seminars to full-time programs in the United States.
Programs are designed to strengthen the capabilities of friendly countries to fight terrorism, as well as construct and strengthen the dedicated global network of counterterrorism experts and professionals.
In looking at the terrorist threat beyond the Gulf of Aden over the past decade, the United States and our partners can count many accomplishments, including remarkable success in weakening al-Qa’ida’s core leadership in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Yet the nature of the threat has evolved. Today’s terrorist organizations are more diverse, more independent, and more inclined to focus on smaller-scale attacks closer to their home base. A great deal of work remains to be done.
Continuing our counterterrorism efforts demands creativity, flexibility, and—above all – partnership. Building, strengthening, and leveraging partnerships is vital to our counterterrorism efforts. This is one of the reasons why we are so pleased to be able to convene the Second Gulf of Aden Regional Counterterrorism Forum here in Djibouti. Our goal for the week is for you to share experiences and to develop new ideas with your colleagues from the region that will help all of us counter the constantly evolving threats we face each day. We look forward to your participation in the coming days. Thank you very much.