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January 30, 2020

ICYMI: SASC Chairman Inhofe Opening Remarks at SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM Posture Hearing

U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, gave opening remarks this morning at a SASC hearing to receive testimony on United States Africa Command and United States Southern Command in review of the Defense Authorization request for Fiscal Year 2021 and Future Years Defense Program.

Witnesses include General Stephen J. Townsend, Commander of United States Africa Command, and Admiral Craig S. Faller, Commander of United States Southern Command.

As Prepared for Delivery:

Good morning. The Committee meets today to receive testimony on United States Africa Command and Southern Command.  I welcome our witnesses and thank them for their service: General Stephen Townsend, Commander of U.S. Africa Command; Admiral Craig Faller, Commander of U.S. Southern Command.

This Committee’s top priority is ensuring the effective implementation of the National Defense Strategy, which identifies competition with China and Russia as “the central challenge to U.S. prosperity and security.”

However, China and Russia’s growing influence isn’t limited to Europe and the Indo-Pacific. Both countries clearly view Africa and Latin America as critical battlefields to fulfill their global ambitions and challenge the United States. 

This is particularly evident in Africa. Over the past 20 years, I’ve conducted 164 African country visits.  I can tell you it is no coincidence that China established its first overseas military base in Djibouti.

I visited Djibouti last February and saw first-hand China’s military base and their encroachment on the Port of Djibouti.

Elsewhere, China is using cash and debt to trap countries and force them to put their infrastructure and potentially their sovereignty on sale.

At the same time, Russia is using its military, mercenaries and weapons sales to buy influence, exploit Africa’s natural resources, and to prop up leaders sympathetic to Russian interests and hostile to the U.S.

While the NDS states that competition with China and Russia should be DoD’s top priority, it makes clear that we must maintain pressure on radical terrorist groups like al-Qaeda and ISIS. 

Today, more than a dozen terrorist groups with ties to al-Qaeda and ISIS are operating across the Africa. Many of these groups have ambition to attack Americans and our partners.  Without sustained pressure, the threat posed by these groups will grow.

In SOUTHCOM’s area of responsibility, China and Russia are pursuing a similar strategy by using economic and military means to expand their access and influence right here in own hemisphere.

China has increased its naval deployments to the region by 70% over the last five years and Chinese companies currently have over 50 active port projects in the region with more planned.

Russia props up oppressive regimes in places like Cuba, Venezuela, and Nicaragua that are hostile to the U.S. They are also deploying advanced military assets to the region, including strategic bombers and warships.

At the same time, much of the drugs that are poisoning American cities are coming from Latin America. These drugs are trafficked by illicit networks that take advantage of porous borders and weak governments.  

I’d say in my opening statement that in both of these comms, I’ve been pretty outspoken as a conservative but one who's really been concerned because they don’t seem to get the attention the other comms do. If you look at Africa, they have a total of 6,000 people there — how much are you going to get accomplished with 6,000 people? You look at CENTCOM, what’s that, 75,000 actually, and PACOM is even bigger than that.

If the object here that people are talking about is to reduce and to reposition people, you’re taking about the two areas where there aren’t enough people to reposition. That’s a narrow view, but it’s mine.

Senator Reed.

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