Southern African countries, Botswana included have not had any visible and direct threat of terrorism and violent extremist organisations such as the Boko Haram, the Al-Qaeda-linked al-Shabaab group and the Islamic State of Iraq and Levant (ISIL).
This however does not guarantee them being entirely safe from terrorist attacks unlike the upper Sahara countries have had to deal with surprise attacks of extremists, Deputy Commander of Military Operations for the United States Africa Command (US-AFRICOM), Lieutenant General Steven Hummer observed during a media delegation to the US-AFRICOM headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany last week. The US-AFRICOM, which operates through the American government, took Botswana and Malawi media representatives to tour their base in Germany in an effort to demystify their existence and footprints throughout 53 of Africa’s countries including Botswana.
US-AFRICOM offers defense training, humanitarian aid, security trainings and partnerships and capacity building to Botswana Defense Force (BDF) and all other countries it has its footprints in across Africa. A South African Defense expert Helmoed Romer Heitman was once quoted in the Business Day publication expressing similar observation as the American Military Operations deputy commander. “While there is no hard terrorist threat against South Africa, this does not mean it is not vulnerable. With its porous borders it would be easy to get arms and explosives into the country.” Even though the region is stable, security experts reiterate the need to be ready to counter any terrorist threats. Already, US-AFRICOM believes that there are possibilities of traces of Al-Shabab members who could use South Africa as a transit even if it or its surrounding areas are not at direct threat currently hence the need for SADC states to ready themselves for any threat. A lot of conditions offer a ground for ease of access to possible terrorist groups.
Top priorities for U.S. involvement in Botswana also include shared commitment to the prevention of wildlife trafficking. Botswana battles with anti-poaching an effort that threatens the country’s tourism potential. On what the US-AFRICOM is doing to support Botswana and surrounding countries on counter-terrorism efforts, Lieutenant Hummer said, “If the Southern African countries show interest to get training from us in counter terrorism and anti violent extremist organisations preparedness, we will assist with such training because we have focus on maintaining peace in the world”.
A local Security Talk columnist, Thabo Masokola wrote recently in his column that, although sitting in the seemingly most stable and peaceful region of Africa, Botswana also needs a good level of preparedness to counter terrorism. “The emergence and expansion of extremist groups like ISIL, the BDF must be capable and ready to effectively respond to. The worst scenario that can happen for any military is to realise when they are faced with the prospect of defeat that they are prepared for the wrong war.” Masokola noted that current security realities are no longer predictable wars on nation against nation but widespread extremist groups whose moves are often a surprise attack on the victim states using smart war technologies like the Improvised Explosive Devices (IED’s).
Botswana is already faced with poaching that Lieutenant Hummer says as a form of illicit trafficking exposes the country to further channels that could ease entry of illegal drug trafficking and weaponry hence a sharp target to anti-poaching is important on their agenda to assist the country through BDF to engage in capacity building in effective counter illicit trafficking. The USA Charge de Affairs to Botswana at the US Embassy, Michael Murphy noted recently that Botswana could learn from the USA on its Intelligence Systems being disjointed. “There are several intelligence agencies under government yet they are disjointed and this makes it easier for terrorists to penetrate just as it happened with the US September 11 attacks.
The FBI, CIA and other intelligence units were all-present but because they were all working independently without the other knowing what the other is working on, the terrorist caught USA off guard.” Murphy was referring to the intelligence bodies including the Military Intelligence, Directorate on Intelligence Services and police service intelligence arm. Lieutenant Hummer reiterated that when a state’s intelligence systems operate in sync, it strengthens their counter terrorism efforts. The US-AFRICOM has different operations in African countries according to needs. In Liberia, they are assisting with the Ebola fight and have given that country about US$ 350million funds towards tackling the disease. In the DRC they are in partnership with government to oust the Lord Resistance Army that has swiftly gained ground in Uganda and neighbouring countries terrorising the communities and recruiting child soldiers. US AFRICOM is one of six of the U.S.
Defense Department’s geographic combatant commands and is responsible to the Secretary of Defense for military relations with African nations, the African Union, and African regional security organisations. As a full-spectrum combatant command, U.S. AFRICOM is responsible for all U.S. Department of Defense operations, exercises, and security cooperation in Africa, its island nations, and surrounding waters. AFRICOM began initial operations in 2007 and officially became an independent command in October 2008.