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Public Statements

Executive Session

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. BLACKBURN. Mr. President, this past weekend, I was the first Senator in a really long time to fly into Somalia's notoriously dangerous capital city. I will tell you, at first glance, it looks like things in Mogadishu have gotten back to normal. But the situation on the ground, after you fly in and get out of the plane and you get on the ground, you see it is really quite a different story.

There is a reason why our recollection of Somali history focuses on the Black Hawk Down incident--the terrible Battle of Mogadishu--and then- President Bill Clinton's decision to evacuate American troops from the Horn of Africa.

Somalia's legacy is rooted in years of violence that overwhelmed the world's most elite military forces, froze the economy, and left the Somali people very much alone in the world--at least until 9/11, when Western powers were forced to focus on multiple fronts in the War on Terror.

I was fortunate enough last weekend to visit our Djibouti-based troops at Camp Lemonnier. Our base there was established in the wake of 9/11, and since then, has expanded to support AFRICOM's mission in the Horn of Africa. Their leadership is committed to not repeating the mistakes of the past. They have developed the best unmanned aerial system force in the world.

It is amazing what they are doing with these UAVs. Between that program and our impressive intelligence surveillance and reconnaissance capabilities, the military has stepped up their ability to keep our troops safer in the world's most volatile theater.

I was pleased to know that the 101st Airborne out of Fort Campbell-- which is located in Montgomery County, TN, and also there on the Kentucky border--are supporting the vital post-Benghazi East Africa Response Force mission and that the Nashville-based 118th Air Wing unit of the Tennessee Air National Guard plays a vital role in regional security operations.

It brought home to me the point of why we have to get the NDAA finished, why we have to get these resources to our men and women in uniform who are fighting every day and need 21st-century warfare in order to keep us safe.

The work they are doing there--and of course I can't say exactly what it is that they are doing--should make us all really humbled and grateful for those who choose to serve.

Our mission in Africa is changing. Things are shifting a little bit. As we urge our local partners in Africa to take ownership over their own security, the chattering class is at it again and what we will hear from people is: Well, I think we have done enough for Africa. Don't you think we have given enough?

My response this week to those who have made that statement has been: No, we have not done enough. We have invested more than a decades' worth of time, money, and manpower. We have lost men, lost ground, regained that ground, expanded our abilities, and have achieved moderate regional stability. But most importantly, we have confirmed the Horn of Africa is still a geopolitical powder keg.

The same forces that swept the Horn into anarchy in the 1990s and allowed terrorism to metastasize in the 2000s are now triggering instability all across that continent.

For a long time, Somalia managed to limp along as a failed state because a traditional government has never acted as their main arbiter. Powerful clans decided for themselves who would control territory and resources, and the clans are still very evident in that country. The victors, in turn, weaponized access to clean water, food, and healthcare in order to keep citizens in line.

Violent extremist organizations like al-Shabaab, ISIS, and factions of al-Qaida have been watching, and now they are employing the same tactics to destabilize existing governments in and beyond the Horn, in northeast Nigeria, and in the Sahel and the Lake Chad regions of West Africa.

We may have eradicated the physical caliphate, but mom-and-pop terror shops are thriving. What is more, the digital caliphate is alive and well, and it will take more than ground forces to wipe it out.

Many of my colleagues may be tempted to assume that these insurgent hotbeds have lowered Africa's stock in the eyes of global powers, but we shouldn't be fooled about that in this era of great power competition. It is going to sound mighty familiar to all of us, but China and, to a lesser extent, Russia are doing all they can to actually buy their way into strategic dominance. This is some of what we heard and what we learned this week. For example, China has made inroads by agreeing to hold 80 percent of the government of Djibouti's debt. Think about that. China has gone to this country and they have said: Look, we will hold this debt for you, 80 percent of it.

In turn, Djibouti has accommodated China's first overseas military outpost and granted them access to crucial shipping lanes. They have also bought into China's Smart City Program, those all-seeing cameras that I encountered at every intersection at Djibouti City. In other words, the Chinese must feel like they have struck gold. They have a huge port going in. They are helping to turn this into an intermodal transit system with a port, with a railway. By the way, we are going to put these cameras up to help you keep your community safe. And what is China doing? China is collecting all that data. They are scanning all of these faces. They are watching everything that comes into these ports and are monitoring everything that goes on the rails.

China is doing this not only with Djibouti but with other countries in Africa. They are trying to secure this coastline in Africa for themselves to expand their reach.

For 12 years, the United States and our partners have worked together to bring stability to the Horn of Africa. The State Department and USAID have laid the groundwork for education, for health development, institution building, and permanent democratic transition. Yet the region remains vulnerable. Our role is going to change because, yes, we look at it as great power competition through the military. But we also look at the way China and Russia are pushing into their economic sectors. Great power competition is not just playing out in the Indo- Pacific or in Eastern Europe; it is playing out right now on the African Continent. Instead of playing defense, as we do in other theaters, we have the opportunity to be on offense when it comes to Africa.

If we decide that now we have had enough, these threats--from the military, that sector, and from the economic sector--will degrade American influence and will threaten the homeland and will imperil the delicate and completely reversible balance that we have fought so hard to gain. Our Nation's security cannot afford to give ground, to cede ground, on the Continent of Africa.


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