Clinton lays out daunting security challenges in North Africa
Attack on U.S. mission in Benghazi, Libya September 11, 2012
January 23rd, 2013
02:36 PM ET

Clinton lays out daunting security challenges in North Africa

By Tim Lister

Much of the focus of U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s appearance on Capitol Hill Wednesday was on whether her department failed to appreciate and respond to the risks that led to the Benghazi attack - and whether it had the resources to confront such risks.

And, of course, on whether in the immediate aftermath, the administration characterized the attack candidly and accurately.

But the hearings also illustrated how the United States is scrambling to catch up with new realities in North Africa – and how it faces a long struggle in a new arena of instability.

Clinton acknowledged that “the Arab revolutions have scrambled power dynamics and shattered security forces across the region.”

Looking back to her confirmation as secretary of state four years ago, Clinton said, “I don’t think anybody thought [Egyptian President Hosni] Mubarak would be gone, [Libya’s Moammar] Gadhafi would be gone, [Tunisian leader Zine El Abidine] Ben Ali would be gone.”

The Arab uprisings had coincided with the decimation of “core al Qaeda” – with the result that jihadists who had spent years in Pakistan’s tribal territories were returning home.

“We have driven a lot of the [al Qaeda] operatives out of the FATA [Pakistan’s tribal territories], out of Afghanistan, Pakistan….but we have to recognize this is a global movement,” she said.

“We now face a spreading jihadist threat,” Clinton said. “We do have to contend with the wannabes and affiliates going forward.”
On that at least, Senator Bob Corker, R-Tennessee, agreed.

He said the United States faces a new and fractured threat environment.

“The Arab Spring has ushered in a time when al Qaeda is on the rise. The world in many ways is even more dangerous because we lack a central command [in al Qaeda] and have instead these nodes that are scattered throughout North Africa and other places.”

And Corker added that the United States was “woefully unprepared” for what had happened in the region.

Five things we learned from the Benghazi hearings

Pandora’s Box of Arms

Clinton laid out both Washington’s short-term response after the Benghazi attack on September 11, 2012, and how it should deal with the longer-term risks.

“After Benghazi, we accelerated a diplomatic campaign to increase pressure on al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb and other terrorist groups across the region,” she said in her opening remarks.

“In near-constant contacts at every level, we have focused on targeting al Qaeda’s syndicate of terror – closing safe havens, cutting off finances, countering extremist ideology and slowing the flow of new recruits,” she said.
But there was a mountain to climb.

Clinton expressed particular concern at events in Mali. Well-armed Tuareg militia who had been working for Gadhafi had come home just as al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) had also gravitated toward the area.

And only Algeria among Mali’s neighbors had the capacity to aid security in Mali, she said. The rest were simply not strong enough.

The size and topography of northern Mali, with its endless desert and caves, made for a long struggle, she said.

"But it is a necessary struggle. We cannot permit northern Mali to become a safe haven.”

Clinton said the availability of weapons was a major problem, describing it as a Pandora’s Box that was the “source of one of our biggest threats.”

She asserted there was “no doubt that the Algerian terrorists [who attacked the gas facility in In Amenas last week] had weapons from Libya. There’s no doubt that the Malian remnants of AQIM have weapons from Libya.”

She also singled out the threat from Islamist militants of Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, which according to some counterterrorism officials has begun to establish informal links with AQIM.

Who did Benghazi?

Four months after the Benghazi attack, the official refrain on the search for those responsible was the same.

“We continue to hunt the terrorists responsible for the attacks in Benghazi and are determined to bring them to justice,” Clinton said.
Clinton was also cautious in the way she described the attack, citing the unclassified version of the administrative review board she appointed to investigate the attack.

“There’s evidence that the attacks were deliberate, opportunistic and pre-coordinated but not necessarily indicative of extensive planning,” she said.

Clinton was also asked about a New York Times report Wednesday quoting an Algerian official that some of the attackers on the gas plant last week had also been involved in the Benghazi attack, according to interrogations of the surviving attackers.

Clinton was noncommittal, saying “that would be a new thread.” There was no way to confirm the information, and the administration would do everything possible to find out more, she pledged.

Opinion: Benghazi blame game is useless

Building security

Clinton stressed repeatedly that the United States has to lead the way in providing security assistance in vulnerable nations.

“It’s not going to be easy,” she said, “because these new countries have no experience with democracy, they don’t have any real experience among the leaders in running countries, in doing security.”

In Libya, for example, there was willingness to improve security, but no capacity.

“We sent teams out – both civilian and military – experts to try to help them. Until recently, while they were going through their transition it was a very difficult conversation, because they didn’t have the authority.”

She pointed to the example of Colombia, where U.S. assistance over a 10-year period had reduced the threat of terrorist and paramilitary groups.

She also pointed to progress in Somalia, where U.S. funding and training for African troops in the capital and support for the intervention by Kenyan forces had helped push back al Qaeda affiliate al Shabaab.

But “it took time. There were no short cuts,” she said.

“We are in for a long-term struggle here and that means we’ve got to pay attention to places that historically we have chosen not to or had to.”

One important platform for delivering security assistance would be the US Africa Command (AFRICOM). Ten years ago, Clinton said, people had wondered why the U.S. needed a new military command. Now there should be more attention on how and where it was resourced.
“We don’t have assets of any significance right now on the African continent. We’re only building that up,” Clinton said.

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  11. Sapper leader

    Dynamics of a US Embassy..Ambassadorial Residence / Visitors center / Bunker or Fire-base if need be. Our Marine guard should be ready to covert the nature of the residence as the situation dictates. even human wave tactics can be stopped with proper preparation.

    January 25, 2013 at 10:21 am | Reply
  12. Alfred kabura

    Since terrorism against us was discovered its everyones responsibility to combat it and not only. USA a reponsibility all nations should join hands to control this. Behavior I think leaders all over the world should introduce teaching program to their citizens on how to be peaceful.and in my opinion terrorism should be fought. With. Any tools available.

    January 24, 2013 at 3:44 pm | Reply
  13. jim

    CNN, as usual, making excuses for the Administration.

    January 24, 2013 at 8:45 am | Reply
    • Bibi Satanau The Great Liar

      Leave our mouthpiece along . . . cnn-sorchip is the best in the business . . . right after the New York Times and the Washington Post. Just stay stupid and no one gets hurt.
      We are the zine-0-ists of israel and we own you stu-pud Americans!!!!

      January 24, 2013 at 11:27 am | Reply
      • Alfred kabura

        USA is my country it deserves respect I saw this country reach out to help people. All over the globe. For example. I was. Saved by this nation when I was a little boy I was about 8 years old living in another country. There was drought no food guess who came to save us the USA they saved. me and Im grew up then I needed. a job the UsA let me in the country I get jobs here and there I appreciate my new country things are not too bad now for me but our economy isn't very good bit believe me soon or later we are going up again let's all go to work and stop fighting one another. Then our goals to make our country even better are around. the corner USA!!!! Strong.

        January 24, 2013 at 4:24 pm |
      • Alfred kabura

        Allah doesn't justify killing others just because they not Muslims or any other. religion Allah if anything is for peace.

        January 24, 2013 at 4:44 pm |
  14. Mohamed Shahid

    This is what we have been saying. How can we eliminate Al-Qaelda since all OIC countries are financing Islamic terrorism. There are millions of Muslims in Europe, U.S.A and Australia and they are all terrorists who are willing to fight for Allah who ordered Muslims to fight non Muslims. There is no end to this war until the West really understand the root cause. I am fully aware of it, which is Islam.

    January 24, 2013 at 3:20 am | Reply
    • GAZZAH

      Funny, you seem to be a Moslem. Are you a terrorist.
      I myself am a Moslem and don't consider myself to be a terrorist in any way.
      Just fight the terrorists under whatever denomination they hide under.
      Hitler after all was not a moslem.

      January 24, 2013 at 4:00 am | Reply
    • John Geheran

      Funny, I myself am a Moslem too
      I don't consider myself to be a terrorist in any way, except I cheer terrorist attacks on kafers.
      I myself am a Moslem
      I don't consider myself to be a terrorist in any way, except I shed tears when my Moslem brothers die fighting kafers.

      January 24, 2013 at 10:49 am | Reply
  15. Mark Glomski

    You cannot fight terrorism with force.

    January 23, 2013 at 11:12 pm | Reply
    • calvin

      what due you do. give in to their demands. that what obama did and look were web are at now. this will go on though the next 4 years and the news will keep coving it up. so run and hide your head in the sand until it hits here.

      January 24, 2013 at 3:03 am | Reply
    • Alfred kabura

      If the terrorist want force they will see it we want peace and. We do anything to get it and in this cause we aren't. Fighting. Moslems we fighting terrorism they have took many innocent. Lives.

      January 24, 2013 at 5:02 pm | Reply
  16. Ben

    Since 1979 after the Iranian revolution and the subsequent hostage taking of US Embassy staff, there have been security procedures in place to prevent occurrences of violence against Embassy and Consular staff. The RSO and SAO in Libya should have been placed on the carpet to explain who they provided the information to during the attacks in Benghazi. CNN and the Democrats have worked hard to try and protect SO State Clinton from the fallout which as she stated is her responsibility. She and personnel from the high levels of her office did get 4 brave people killed. And that is the truth of the story. But due to her popularity in the news media and from staunch democrats she will be given a pass as well as her staff in the hopes that in 2016 she will continue public service.

    January 23, 2013 at 9:23 pm | Reply
    • Mark Glomski

      Yeah, and Dubya fumbled the warnings about 9/11 and thousands died.

      January 23, 2013 at 11:15 pm | Reply
    • Anonymot

      Yes, you've got it right on however, so does Mark. We've completely abandoned intelligent foreign policy through several administrations. It's our Teutonic, superman complex. We can no longer either control the world nor abandon it, but we must find our place and fit in it. Kerry is possibly an excellent choice to restore a balance if our military will let him.

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