Your Excellencies, Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen:
It is an honor to join you today at this important security conference.
I would like to thank IQPC, DefenseIQ, and the conference organizers for their kind invitation to discuss the U.S. government’s diplomatic efforts to confront the major security threats affecting West Africa, the Sahel, and the Maghreb.
I would especially like to thank the Government of Morocco and the Royal Moroccan Navy for their hospitality and for their leadership in working with the international community to combat the security challenges faced by many countries in this part of the world.
Let me also thank all of the representatives from governments, international organizations, and the private sector who are here in Casablanca today.
The United States applauds your continued commitment to defend your collective homeland security and safeguard communities against the threats posed by illicit trafficking networks.
Triple Threat: Corruption, Crime, and Terrorism Pave Illicit Trafficking Corridor
Today’s reality is one in which we live in a world where there is no region, no country and no people who remain untouched by the destabilizing effects and corruptive influence of transnational organized crime and violent terrorism.
Their impact is truly global and their real threat centers in some cases in their convergence. In particular, we must recognize that trans-regional illicit trafficking of drugs, arms, humans, and other illicit trade goods and services, are fuelling greater insecurity and instability across Africa, and in other parts of the world.
In December, the United Nations Security Council expressed concern over the increasing links between cross-border narcotics trafficking and other forms of transnational organized crime in West Africa and the Sahel. UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said:
“West Africa is no longer just a transit route for drug traffickers but a growing destination, with more than a million users of illicit drugs. Rising consumption aggravates an already challenging public health environment and threatens socio-economic development.”
The challenge that drug trafficking poses to peace, stability, and development in the region is compounded by the dramatic social and political changes that have taken place in North Africa and the Middle East over the last few years. The tide of change has not only unleashed forces for justice, but also ignited a fury of violence and insecurity that has emboldened a variety of non-state actors to assert their agendas across the region.
On the governance front, the proceeds of drug trafficking and illicit trade are fueling a dramatic increase in corruption among the very institutions responsible for fighting crime. The collusion and complicity of some government officials have helped carve out a corridor of illicit trafficking that stretches from the West African coast to the Horn of Africa, from North Africa south to the Gulf of Guinea.
Illicit networks continue to move people and products along these routes. From the coca and opium poppy fields of Colombia and Southeast Asia to the coasts of West Africa and its hashish plantations, drug cartels and other criminal networks navigate an illicit superhighway that serves illicit markets across the continent and around the globe. They use commercial jets, fishing vessels, and container ships to move drugs, people, small arms, crude oil, cigarettes, counterfeit medicine, and toxic waste through the region, generating massive profits.
At a time when many are heralding the rise of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies in sub-Saharan Africa, these criminal entrepreneurs are undermining that growth by financing booming illicit markets, turning many vulnerable communities into a corridor of insecurity and instability. The UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) estimates that terrorist financing, trafficking in arms, drugs, and people, and other transnational forms of organized crime generate approximately $3.34 billion per year.
Cocaine trafficking is among the most lucrative illicit activities. UNODC estimates that approximately 13 percent of the global cocaine traffic moves through West Africa. In the past several years, West Africa has become a key transit route for drug trafficking from the Americas. Large seizures of drugs have been made in and along the coasts of Ghana, Sierra Leone, Cape Verde, Togo, Liberia, Benin, Senegal, and Nigeria. Smugglers and traffickers then transport these drugs through caravans, couriers, and maritime routes to destination markets in Europe and elsewhere.
West Africa is a transit point for heroin destined for the United States. In recent years, the United States disrupted and prosecuted an international cartel that moved heroin from Ghana to Dulles International Airport.
Illicit markets are growing across Africa to meet global demand for arms, counterfeits, cigarettes, diamonds and other precious minerals, wildlife, stolen luxury cars, and other illegal goods. Terrorists also engage in criminal activities, principally kidnapping for ransom and other crimes to fund their violent campaigns such as those that we are witnessing today by al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), Boko Haram, and others.
The finances of at least one terrorist networks that is engaged in or linked to illicit trafficking in the region are sometimes wired or transferred from West Africa to financial safe havens such as banks in Lebanon.
For example, the Lebanese Canadian Bank (LCB) case suggested that the terrorist organization Hizballah is actively engaged in money laundering operations in West Africa involving narcotics trafficking and used and stolen car sales.
Maritime crime has also captured the attention of the regional states and international community. The reported number of incidents in the Gulf of Guinea and the level of violence associated with those acts remain a concern. The Economic Communities of West and Central African States, the Gulf of Guinea Commission, and their member states should be commended for the outcomes of the June 2013 Yaoundé Summit. The signed Gulf of Guinea Code of Conduct (GGC) covers not only armed robbery at sea and piracy, but also other illicit maritime activity such as illegal fishing, maritime pollution, and human and drug trafficking.
Artificial Boundaries: Spillover Effects Across the Sahel and Maghreb
Unfortunately, what happens in West Africa no longer stays in West Africa. Illicit trade is feeding destabilization across West Africa, the Sahel, and the Maghreb. Communities here face a complex set of challenges that threaten the security of all nations in the region and beyond.
As the Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper noted a few weeks ago in a statement to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence:
“Sub-Saharan Africa…[has seen] the emergence of extremist and rebel groups, which increasingly launch deadly asymmetric attacks, and which government forces often cannot effectively counter due to a lack of capability and sometimes will. Additionally, a youth bulge will grow with unfulfilled economic expectations and political frustrations; conflict will increase for land and water resources; and strengthening transnational criminal networks will disrupt political and economic stability.”
Director Clapper also stressed that limited resources, corruption, illicit markets, smuggling, and poor governance “undercut development and the [Sahel] region’s ability to absorb international assistance and improve stability and security, which would impede terrorists’ freedom of movement.”
Such convergence of actors is further paving the corridor of illicit trafficking and crime-terror continuum across Africa as criminal insurgencies are becoming players themselves in illicit markets and using the proceeds to finance their terror campaigns, secure their training camps, establish safe havens.
We only have to look at some of the current hot spots to clearly comprehend how certain crime-terror dynamics continue to contribute to insecurity and instability.
The acute crises in Mali and trans-Africa must be understood in the broader context of a deeply strained region, particularly relating to governance, as converging threat vectors come together from all four sides to create regional security hot spots.
Though Mali’s current predicament arises largely from specific internal factors, the country’s challenges are reinforced and exacerbated by a range of transnational dynamics such as region-wide afflictions, adverse ecological changes, underdevelopment, disaffected local populations, and organized criminal networks.
The rise of violent extremism and organized crime across the region is aggravating the situation in Mali. Al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa, and other terrorist groups have launched attacks, fanned suicide bombers, and kidnappings for ransom from northern Mali into neighboring countries. AQIM’s game-plan in the region is to build an Islamic radical caliphate. According to West Point's Combating Terrorism Center, AQIM's objectives include ridding North Africa of Western influence; overthrowing governments deemed apostate, including those of Algeria, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, and Tunisia; and installing fundamentalist regimes based on sharia.
So as illicit goods are trafficked through Mali, the Sahel, and Maghreb, AQIM and its sympathizers are manipulating socio-economic conditions to further advance an illegal economy, and finance their aspirations for a caliphate. For example, prior to losing territorial control after the French intervention in 2013, AQIM was reported to tax drugs passing through their territory.
Despite the transnational impacts, long-term solutions must directly address the internal factors that have made these countries so vulnerable. For example, during the 2012 rebellion, extremists were able to maintain control over cities in the north in part because they provided some semblance of security.
Mali’s civilian security services must develop the capability to provide visible, relevant, and accountable citizen security. Improving citizen participation, trust, and ownership of the national government is a key ingredient to ending the cycle of instability.
Libya also continues to be challenged with the threat of violence and insecurity.
Libya’s transitional government has been struggling to stabilize the country since a revolution led to dictator Muammar Ghaddafi’s ouster in October 2011. As in other parts of this continent in ungoverned spaces and pockets of insecurity, a proliferation of threat actors and networks including extremists and violent groups are further destabilizing Libya.
AQIM continues to forge alliances with violent extremist networks in Libya and across the Maghreb, Sahel, and West Africa.
After 42 years of dictatorship, Libya suffers from instability and poor governance due to weak institutions, wide, porous borders, huge stockpiles of loose conventional weapons, and the presence of militias, some of whom have extremist ties.
Without capable police and national security forces that work with communities, security and justice sector institutions struggle to fulfill their mandate, and rule of law is undermined, enabling criminality, illicit trade, and frustration to grow.
Border security is also a critical U.S. and international concern in Libya. Libya’s uncontrolled borders permit the flow not only of destabilizing Qadhafi-era conventional weapons, but also violent extremists throughout North Africa, the Middle East, and the Sahel.
As noted earlier, the flow of these foreign fighters has increased since the fall of Qadhafi and was highlighted by the January 2013 attack near In Amenas, Algeria.
The United States is in the process of beginning to implement a Global Security Contingency Fund (GSCF) border security program to provide technical expertise, training, and limited equipment to build Libya’s inter-ministerial border security capacity to address security along its southern land border.
This program includes training and equipment programming for Libya’s neighbors – Chad, Niger, and Algeria – to improve border security cooperation with Libya. In addition, we have a GSCF training and equipment program to build special operations forces capacity.
Nigerian organized criminal networks remain a major factor in moving cocaine and heroin worldwide, and have begun to produce and traffic methamphetamine to and around Southeast Asia.
In addition to drug trafficking, some of these criminal organizations also engage in other forms of trafficking and fraud targeting citizens of the United States, Europe, and globally.
Widespread corruption in Nigeria further facilitates criminal activity, and, combined with Nigeria’s central location along major trafficking routes, enables criminal groups to flourish and make Nigeria an important trafficking hub.
Nigeria is also having to confront the Boko Haram insurgency in the country’s northeast and has suffered a spate of significant terrorist attacks in recent years.
These terrorist acts are the primary reason that the United States formally designated Boko Haram and Ansaru as foreign terrorist organizations, blocking financial transactions in the United States and making it a crime for U.S. persons to provide them with material support.
The close proximity of terrorist and criminal networks in Nigeria raise the potential for illicit collaboration that will negatively influence the current state of affairs across Africa, and the spigot that is financing insecurity and instability.
Impacts on Morocco and Beyond
But the narrative is not all dire and doom. Take Morocco for example.
While Morocco remains a leading source country for cannabis, trailing only Afghanistan in hashish (cannabis resin) production, its relative importance as a source country may be waning, according to the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with Afghanistan and India gaining prominence as suppliers for the that market.
And while it also continues to serve as a transshipment zone for cocaine originating in Latin America that is smuggled via West Africa to Europe, international cooperation is being strengthened with our partners.
For example, the United States has good cooperation with the Moroccan Navy, the Gendarmerie, and Moroccan Customs as they continue to maintain an aggressive maritime interdiction effort against smugglers and traffickers.
On our overall bilateral relationship, we continue to enjoy a very strong partnership with Morocco, focused on promoting regional stability, supporting democratic reform efforts, countering violent extremism, and strengthening trade and cultural ties.
Sustainable Security: Climate Change and Illicit Networks
But terrorism, crime, and corruption are not the only threats we need to consider when we look at the African context.
Threats to the environment from climate change and other factors add a layer of complexity. Whether through the slaughter of wildlife, theft of natural resources, illegal logging and fishing, or other environmental challenges, Africa is losing its biodiversity and cultural heritage.
On top of all this, the changing climate in the Sahel and West Africa, and throughout Africa, can have profound security implications for the region, in the context of other destabilizing factors and existing vulnerabilities. As climate change contributes to hotter temperatures, rising coastal sea levels, desertification, natural disasters, rapid urbanization, and deforestation, greater pressure will be placed on food supplies, water levels, fisheries, and other critical resources. We must continue to work together to address global climate change, reducing our emissions and building resilience to its impacts.
The United States has committed more than a billion dollars since 2009 to humanitarian assistance for drought-affected and conflict-displaced communities in the Sahel, but we face a long road ahead that must include stemming the terrorist threat, uprooting safe havens and sanctuaries, fighting organized crime, and controlling the proliferation of weapons.
Above all, we must work with Africans to protect children from being exploited, trafficked, or recruited to become child soldiers.
U.S. Diplomatic Efforts and International Cooperation
The United States strongly supports the great strides many African countries have made to improve security, good governance, rule of law, and sustainable economic development.
As President Barack Obama highlighted in the U.S. Strategy to Combat Transnational Organized Crime, the United States will continue to assist our partners to strengthen their security footprint and capabilities to combat today’s threat networks.
A key pillar of the Strategy is to enhance international cooperation with key partners to combat threats posed by organized crime, narco-trafficking, and terrorism, and to protect our communities from the violence, harm, and exploitation wrought by transnational threat networks.
The Strategy also challenges the U.S. government and our international partners to work together to combat transnational illicit networks and converging threats, and take that fight to the next level by breaking their corruptive power, attacking their financial underpinnings, stripping them of their illicit wealth, and severing their access to the financial system.
Throughout this conference, you will have heard presentations about the breadth of U.S. technical assistance from my colleagues from the U.S. Department of Defense, AFRICOM, U.S. law enforcement, and other agencies.
I would like to outline what the Department of State is doing, and in particular to outline some of the programs of the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL). In May 2011, my boss, Ambassador William Brownfield, led a delegation of senior U.S. officials to West Africa to begin formulating a strategic approach to undermine transnational criminal networks in West Africa and to reduce their ability to operate illicit criminal enterprises.
Through consultations with partners in the region, our U.S. government team developed a plan called the West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative, or WACSI. WACSI is built around five objectives designed to respond to the underlying factors that allow transnational crime to flourish in West Africa.
Drawing on lessons learned from the law enforcement, development, and military perspectives, as well as the conditions on the ground unique to West Africa, WACSI offers the first comprehensive U.S. government approach to drug trafficking in West Africa.
The U.S. government has identified existing and new U.S. assistance to support this initiative and it is anticipated that additional U.S. government resources will be dedicated to support it in the future. Programming under WACSI will be aligned with the five pillars to focus on efforts such as:
West Africa Cooperative Security Initiative (WACSI) in Action
Within the WACSI framework, INL is revamping our assistance programs to create a regional effect, maximize our impact, and coordinate with international partners, including West Africans, other donors, and international organizations.
In 2011 and 2012, the U.S. government provided approximately $95 million for WACSI programs. With this funding, we have undertaken several new projects that help Africans build skills and abilities to fight transnational crime, including maritime crime.
For example, we opened the West Africa Regional Training Center (RTC) in Accra, Ghana, in January 2013. The RTC brings together law enforcement, security, and judicial officials from multiple countries, creating relationships across the region, and building knowledge and skills on topics ranging from investigative analysis to anti-corruption to counternarcotics. In 2013, we conducted 19 courses and trained more than 675 officials from 17 countries.
To address maritime security, we supported a series of three regional workshops focused on maritime criminal justice for ECOWAS member states.
We continue to explore future areas of assistance to include strengthening capabilities to preserve crime scenes for complex investigations, create strong case packages, and build more effective, evidence-based trials.
Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership
The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership (TSCTP) is a multi-faceted U.S. strategy aimed at disrupting terrorist organizations by strengthening regional counterterrorism capabilities, and enhancing and institutionalizing cooperation among the region’s security forces. This effort has taken an increasingly holistic view of counter-terrorism, focusing on the drivers of extremism, and the importance of effective, resilient, and accountable security and justice institutions.
In 2014, INL will be working with governments in the Maghreb and Sahel to improve the responsiveness of their security institutions to their citizens. In particular, INL will provide mentorship and training to law enforcement and corrections services to help them proactively and accountably provide the valuable citizen security their citizens expect and need. INL is also looking to engage with communities to help them more proactively advocate for their interests and work with law enforcement to find practical solutions to their security concerns.
We are also exploring how regional networks can help improve the sustainability and effectiveness of key security sector reforms, both within the Sahel and the Maghreb.
Conclusion: Partnerships for Sustainable Security
I applaud the organizers of the AFSEC14 conference for focusing on the importance of strengthening international cooperation on sea and on land to effectively disrupt and dismantle transnational organized crime, illicit flows, and terrorism across Africa.
I want to again extend my appreciation on behalf of the United States to our partners in attendance for their commitment to work across borders, improve coordination and information-sharing, and leverage our respective capabilities and capacities to defeat our common adversaries.
Many of our partners, including the European Union, NATO, the African Union, and others, are undertaking multi-dimensional, trans-African strategies, and we must continue to coordinate closely to ensure a common and complementary approach.
The United States will be an active partner in this endeavor and will continue to support the ongoing efforts of the UN Special Envoy for the Sahel, Romano Prodi, to develop an integrated UN strategy for tackling the multiple crises trans Africa. We must continue our efforts to approach the Sahel and the Maghreb’s interconnected problems with a comprehensive inter-regional and international effort.
The United States, China, France, and other countries must work more closely with the international community to better coordinate efforts and resources, build Africa’s sustainable future and work together to combat the threats that undermine the capital and investments that are necessary to sustain economic prosperity throughout Africa.
We must continue to leverage all national economic, intelligence, and diplomatic powers to make it riskier, harder, and costlier for threat networks to do business within Africa.
Illicit trafficking remains the lifeblood of the numerous bad actors and networks, creating vulnerabilities for nations. We must crackdown on corruption at all levels and cut off the ability of kleptocrats, criminals, and terrorists to enjoy the fruits of illicit enterprise and that enable the financial capacity to execute their operations.
By combating the triple threat of corruption, organized crime, and terrorism, we can also shut the door and keep criminals and extremists alike from exploiting vulnerable and corrupt nodes or their grievances to wage jihad. We must prevent narco-corruption from destroying countries like Guinea and Guinea-Bissau.
Finally, just as Al-Qaeda, al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and other violent extremist groups are determined to spread insecurity and despair, the international community must support governments in the region to offer the better alternative—the option of hope, economic freedom, and sustainable futures that are real investments in peoples’ lives.
To do this, we must support pragmatic partnerships and creative incentives that deter the recruitment of Africa’s marginalized youth and peoples, unemployed, and disenfranchised and invest in developing economic opportunities that help finance their education, health, and on agricultural technologies and other micro-business that augment market growth and investment strategies. Reducing demand for increasingly available illicit drugs is a key part of this puzzle, if we are to give Africa’s youth a fighting chance at stopping the cycle of crime and corruption.
We need to address underlying causes that are contributing to today’s conflicts in Africa: food and water security, poverty, economic integration and development, and other socio-economic areas that empower communities and nurture growth markets, investment frontiers, and resiliency.
With careful, targeted assistance, and smart diplomatic engagement, together we can advance our common objectives and strategic interests.
If we do not act decisively, the region will remain an exporter of terror and a provider of safe havens where terrorists from other conflicts all over the world find refuge, illicit trafficking will continue to expand, arms and weapons will dangerously proliferate, women, men, and children will be trafficked, and drugs and illicit enterprise will corrode the rule of law and the gains of globalization.
The tragic attacks in Abuja, In Amenas, Bamako, Benghazi, Nairobi, and other cities across West Africa, the Sahel, East Africa, and Maghreb are not reasons to retreat. Neither are the greedy and illicit ventures by criminal entrepreneurs that are destroying communities.
An effective response will require more local and regional partners, more cooperation with allies, more resources, and most of all a willingness to accept risk and political courage and commitment to stay the course.
We can only tackle these threats effectively if we work together and synchronize our capabilities and capacities.
If we do this, we can create hope, stability, opportunity, and an enduring peace.
And we must not fail to safeguard all of our security and to protect the blessings for our children to enjoy—a global village that is safer, more secure, prosperous, and at peace.