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Subcommittee Chairman Pfluger Delivers Opening Statement in Hearing on the Rise of Terrorism in Africa

September 27, 2023

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, Rep. August Pfluger (R-TX), chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence, delivered the following opening statement in a hearing to examine terrorism threats in Africa and their implications on U.S. homeland security. Watch the full hearing here.

Watch Subcommittee Chairman Pfluger’s opening statement in a hearing entitled “The Future of Homeland Security: Addressing the Rise of Terrorism in Africa.”

As prepared for delivery:

Good morning, and welcome to the Subcommittee on Counterterrorism, Law Enforcement, and Intelligence.

We are holding this important hearing to examine and discuss the rising threats posed by terrorist groups in Africa and its impact on the security of our homeland and Americans abroad. This is a topic of critical importance to the Committee and this Subcommittee, in particular.

In fact, it was this subcommittee that held the first Congressional hearing about Boko Haram, who refers to itself as the “Nigerian Taliban” and has been designated a Foreign Terrorist Organization for its terrorist attacks.

Why are we here? Over thirty years ago, terrorists trained at an al-Qaeda training camp in Afghanistan carried out a car bombing on the World Trade Center. The bombing resulted in the deaths of six people and injured thousands of Americans.

Eight years later, 19 terrorists that were motivated by the same radical ideological beliefs, highjacked four commercial airliners and carried out the largest terrorist attacks in our nation’s history on September 11th.

Just a short while ago, Homeland Security Committee Members led by Subcommittee Chairman Anthony D’Esposito commemorated the 22nd anniversary of the 9/11 attacks at the 9/11 Memorial & Museum in lower Manhattan. Members honored the memory of the victims and thanked first responders for their dedicated services.

During the period between the first attack on the World Trade Center and 9/11, our nation did not fully comprehend the threats posed by the Salafi-jihadist movement or identify the warning signs or threat indicators that could have helped degrade al-Qaeda’s operational capacities and capabilities.

We must learn from these past failures and have proactive conversations to not only identify these threats, but appropriately confront them before they metastasize.

Political instability, dire economic conditions, sectarian violence, mass migration, and anti-Western sentiment are some of the main factors that contribute to individuals radicalizing and joining jihadist movements to commit violence.

The unfortunate reality is that many African nations share these underlying factors that contribute to the rise of extremism. These conditions are not new and have been present on the continent for decades. Two notable events have especially defined today’s terrorism threat landscape throughout Africa.

On October 3, 1993, American forces helping with US peace keeping operations in Mogadishu were attacked by the Somali National Alliance, whose fighters were trained and equipped by al-Qaeda.

Eighteen Americans died and 73 others were injured. To this day, the Battle of Mogadishu is still one of the deadliest days in the history of the U.S. Special Operations’ Forces.

American forces were again attacked by jihadists on October 4, 2017 in Niger. Now known as the Tongo Tongo ambush, U.S. Army special operators and Nigerian troops were ambushed by Islamic State militants, while out conducting an operation to capture Islamic State in the Greater Sahel commander Doundou Chefou. Four Americans and four Nigerians were killed that day and eight Nigerians, and two Americans were wounded.

Both, the Battle of Mogadishu and the Tongo Tongo ambush, were galvanizing inflection points for the jihadist movements in Africa and helped contribute to the rise of the terror networks across the continent. Regional instability has also fueled the terror threat landscape across Africa.

After the collapse of ISIS’s caliphate in Syria and Iraq, many of the jihadist escaped to various countries throughout Africa. These insurgents have wreaked havoc across the continent forcing governments to develop and enhance their counterterrorism capabilities.

Our nation has helped lead these efforts. In fact, we have kept two bases in Niger, with about 1,000 men and women of our military deployed there with a counterterrorism and intelligence mission across the broader region. However, near-peer competitors, China and Russia, have also rushed to help fill the power vacuum.

Russia has exploited corrupt African governments with checkered human rights records into allowing their nation’s counterterrorism operations to be supported by Russian paramilitary groups.

Most notably Russia’s Wagner Group, a private military company (PMC), have not only provided counter-terrorism capabilities, but have also been used to prop up ruthless authoritarian figures.

In return, Russian PMCs gain access to gold, diamond, and critical mineral mines. These resources have helped keep the Russian economy afloat and has helped fuel their unjust and provocative war in Ukraine.

The nefarious actions and human rights abuses by foreign malign nation states have turned local populations towards jihadist groups for protection.

The United States cannot continue to allow Russian PMCs or China to fill this power vacuum. We must provide viable alternatives to these arrangements and encourage our African partners to work with us and embrace our shared-democratic values to stop the spread of the jihadi movement.

This hearing is an important subject that I am personally familiar with, having served abroad in numerous theaters of operations, including the Middle East, fighting against ISIS.

Our African partners must not fall victim to the sheer brutality of these jihadist groups or allow anywhere on the continent to become a new breeding ground for extremism. I hope we can have an honest and open dialogue today on this issue. This shouldn’t be a Republican or Democrat issue; it transcends party lines.

I am delighted to have a distinguished panel of expert witnesses to discuss this important topic. I thank all our witnesses for being with us this morning and I look forward to our discussion.