Digital Press Briefing with U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley, Commander, U.S. Africa Command

  • U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley, Commander, U.S. Africa Command, discusses top regional security challenges throughout Africa and his participation at the 2024 African Chiefs of Defense Conference.

MODERATOR:  Good morning to everyone from the U.S. Department of State’s Africa Regional Media Hub. I welcome our participants logging in from across the continent and thank all of you for joining us.  Today, we are very pleased to be joined by the Commander, U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley, who is joining us from Gaborone, Botswana, where he is participating in the 2024 African Chiefs of Defense Conference.  We will begin today’s briefing with opening remarks from General Michael Langley and then we will turn to your questions.  We will try to get to as many of your questions as we can during the briefing.   

So with that, I would like to turn it over to General Langley for his opening remarks. 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Thank you very much, and good day to all of you.  We are here – gathered here today.  This is the day after the conclusion of the African Chiefs of Defense Conference 2024 here in Gaborone, Botswana.  I just want to state it was a very outstanding and informative event.  It was a privilege to hear from so many distinguished leaders – over 30 countries were represented at this conference – to gain insights and it’s shared – will be shared with us all as we address some of the challenges but also opportunities on the African continent.  Everybody had input.  So it will greatly enhance overall regional and continental security across Africa.  Thank you.  

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you very much, General Langley.  So we will now begin the question-and-answer portion of today’s briefing.  So we do ask that you limit yourself to one question only and related to the topic of today’s briefing, which is the 2024 African Chiefs of Defense Conference and regional security challenges in Africa.   

So for our first question I’ll go to Monica Baidoo of Flava Radio and TV in Zambia, and Monica asks:  “Given the diverse security challenges across Africa, could you outline the U.S. Africa Command’s current strategic priorities and initiatives aimed at enhancing regional stability and addressing emerging threats?”  General? 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Okay, and thanks, Ms. Monica Baidoo, for that question.  First and foremost, as a combatant commander that is charged with an area of responsibility as vast as the continent of Africa, with many partners, with our ability to engage with 53 countries for the purposes of being able to share ideas and also share common objectives of stability, security, and to effect prosperity – so with that comes some of the challenges that we address, in which we deter threats and also have the ability for crisis response.  But the ways we achieve that is through bolstered partner capacity with our African partners on the continent through a whole-of-government approach.  Because with our common challenges, we address those issues which are African-led and U.S.-enabled.  

So being able to do that matches what we try to do to be able to have a positive influence as we come together with these shared objectives and shared values for that clear end state. 

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you very much, General.  For our second question, it’s posed by Eric Schmitt from The New York Times.  Eric asks:  “Please assess the strength and significance of ISIS-Somalia as both a regional and global terrorist threat?” 

General, I’m not hearing you.  Perhaps you’re muted.  

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Okay, wait.  Can you hear me now?  

MODERATOR:  Loud and clear.   

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Okay.  Yes, so Eric’s Schmitt’s question was on ISIS-Somalia.  This is a – where we’ve been tracking that for a few years, as you well know, that at the beginning of 2023 we had a mission against Bilal al-Sudani which – who was already showing his efforts within ISIS construct in Somalia to export operations or export financing globally.  And that’s where we have continued to watch this and assess what ISIS-Somalia is doing thus far, because when we look at it, we look for indications of warnings in the spirit and intent of protecting the homeland, but also globally, watching the effects of ISIS, because they are still present across a number of regions across the globe and also on the African continent in Somalia.   

MODERATOR:  All right.  Thank you, General.  So the third question this morning goes to Patrick Markey of Agence France-Presse in Nigeria, and he asks:  “How would you characterize the jihadist threat from the Sahel to Coastal West African countries?  How has that risk changed with the withdrawal of French and U.S. troops from the Sahel region, and what form of concrete cooperation are you looking at with Ivory Coast, Ghana, and Benin to make up for the loss of operations in Niger?”   

General, not getting your audio.   

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Can you hear me now?  

MODERATOR:  Loud and clear.  

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Okay, great.  Okay.  So the question was, how has the risk changed with the withdrawal of the French and U.S. troops from the Sahel region?  I say the Sahel has become less safe.  One, because of the expanded numbers across a number of factions or violent extremist organizations, whether we’re talking about JNIM or ISIS-Sahel or ISIS-West Africa; Boko Haram is still there.  So it is – very, very much has increased across the region – across the region, and now it’s at the cusp of affecting Coastal West Africa.   

So violent extremist organizations, they thrive in areas of instability – and instability such as governments, weak governance that is – that lay themselves vulnerable for ungoverned populations, regions, across and into Coastal West Africa, a number of regions across their northern borders that are susceptible for the influence of violent extremist organizations.   

So the bottom-line answer is it is less safe, but our way forward is to engage with these countries, identify what their needs are in which they will lead a enduring solution, and in most cases it will be a whole-of-government approach on their end as well.  And so that’s where our “3D” construct within AFRICOM comes into play, because we have those shared – we have those shared objectives, shared challenges, but also the throughput of how we address an enduring solution through a whole-of-government approach.  And we have a lot of activities and investments that have been effective in the past and I’m sure they will be effective in the future based on the lead of our African partners.   

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you very much for that answer.  So the next question comes from Saeed Ibrahim of the Somaliland Chronicle, and his question is:  “Multiple outlets, including VoA, are reporting a resurgent al-Shabaab that is rapidly taking back territory from the Somali National Army.  Do you consider the Somali Government honest in combating al-Shabaab given their effort in containing the Somaliland-Ethiopia MoU?” 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Okay, yeah.  So I – let me just go ahead and give you – I was in Somalia last week, all the way up to this past weekend, and had the honor and privilege of being able to talk to President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, and he shared with me the way forward.  And he said – he concurred that yes, it has been ebbing and flowing across some of the regions where they had success since 2022, in the Galmudug and the Hirshabelle regions and the Hiraan region – of success.  But he said a miss of the transition of the ATMIS mission and bringing in the holding forces, that there has – it has ebbed and flowed.  But he says that their operations of late have been very successful at re-establishing control.  

But he also stated that it’s a – that what spells success for him are, one, security forces who hold, also engaging with the federal member-states and also their active communities, with a whole-of-government approach in society and establishing stability.  So as a liberation plan unfolds into a stabilization plan, all those tenets need to be in place – collaboration and coordination – between all of those tenets from the federal – the federal government and also the regional governments and also civil society coming together for human rights protections, providing services, providing health.   

Those tenets right there in place are measures that are – that are not withstanding of the pressures of a shadow government of al-Shabaab.  They’re seeing the value in that.  The citizens in these regions have seen the value of that.  That’s where his campaign plan is most effective.  So – but in light of the transition from ATMIS to federal – to his Somali National Army is going to be a transition that is going to ebb and flow, but he is very confident that this transition is going to go smoothly, that he keep all the tenets of all the whole of government both at the national level and the local level that they can be successful in achieving the effects against al-Shabaab.   

MODERATOR:  All right.  Thank you very much, General.  So now we have a question from a Botswanan journalist, Mbongeni Mguni of Mmegi online.  And the question is:  “Could General Langley elaborate on his observations around disinformation and misinformation as a new weapon stoking wars in Africa?  How can countries police social media to weed out dis- and misinformation without being accused of muzzling or threatening freedom of expression?” 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Oh, yes, that’s a great question.  Because we know that disinformation and misinformation campaigns affect not only the continent of Africa, but it’s global.  Okay.  We’re in a new day and age – day and age in the information space whereas there is illicit activity across that medium or across that domain.  So while pursuing diverse international relations is understandable, I see that the Russian Federation’s persistent violations of international law pose a direct threat to the rules-based international order.   

Now, when you operate within this – within this domain across the information space, we see that Wagner has been very, very progressive at trying to establish a control.  In African countries, this does not enhance security or stability for the populace.  So information campaigns of others to ensure that the truth gets out there and how vulnerable the populations are to destabilizing type misinformation or disinformation is, that’s what needs to be communicated.  There’s a strong link between the scope of disinformation and instability; that’s the truth.  So getting the truth out there to counter disinformation is essential. 

And according to the African Center of Strategic Studies, disinformation campaigns have directly driven deadly violence, promoted and validated military coups, and also cowed civil society members into silence and served as a smokescreen for corruption and exploitation. 

So with all of that being said, there needs to be measures taken to be able to provide this civil society the truth that measures up to some of the illicit information and disinformation that’s out there so people can do critical thinking to decipher the truth going forward. 

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you very much.  So next question comes from Chris Ewokor of BBC World Service in Nigeria.  The question is:  “What country in West Africa is the U.S. military considering for a base after pulling out of Niger, Benin, Ghana?”  Or – sorry.  “After pulling out of Niger – Benin, Ghana, or Ivory Coast?” 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Okay, great question.  Now, so we remain very focused on the growing terror threat in West Africa writ large, and with this growing terror threat, knowing that this is – these are shared threats with our African partners, the way we see it as far as the protection of U.S. homeland and then our African partners’ protection of their respective countries against this common threat, we recognize that, but also – we also know when we build partnership and capacity with our African partners, we ensure that we listen, we learn, and we understand what they need as far as an enduring solution to terrorism.  It’s not all kinetics.  It’s not all just security structure.  It is building institutions across their whole of governments that would be a panacea to countering the threats of violent extremist organizations.  So yes, I’ve made travels across West Africa, across coastal West Africa, those that are – those that are up against the growing threat, whether it’s on their borders or already across their borders, and I listen to what they need to be successful, and wholeheartedly and pretty, pretty consistent, they understand and they tell me it’s a whole-of-government approach.  So building out those institutions.   

This is married up with what we used to – what we have past – in the past years called the Global Fragility Act.  From that has been a strategy of preventing conflict, promoting stability. We work that across our country chains in engagement with our African partners to ensure that we can implement that across the board to be effective and to serve as the enduring solution to terrorism.  This takes – this takes engagements with civil society and communities and being able to provide services and building institutions even at the local governance level, and also closing the civil-military divide, because a partnership is very effective against countering terrorism. 

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you very much.  So we do have a question from Zimbabwe.  Mr. Columbus Mavhunga of – who is a freelance journalist working for VOA.  His question is:  “The Zimbabwean Government accuses you of militarizing Zambia and setting up the U.S. Africa Command and moving it from Stuttgart in Germany without express permission from Zambian lawmakers, SADC, or the African Union.  What is your response to that?” 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Could you repeat that question? 

MODERATOR:  Yes.  So the Zimbabwe Government is accusing the U.S. of militarizing Zambia and seeking to move AFRICOM from Stuttgart to Zambia without permission from Zambian lawmakers, SADC, or the African Union.  What’s your response? 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  That’s absolutely false.  We have no bases in Zambia.  We have no plans to put one there.  So our approach is African-led and U.S.-enabled, and so we work closely.  We have a deepened partnership with Zambia.  There is no base.  We have increased security cooperation with them, but there is no footprint, there is no posture, there is no base.  Within our security cooperation office, which is resident in the embassy, but there is no base.  There’s no plans for a base.  And – but I would just say that we have a very deepened partnership and strong partnership with our Zambian friends and security construct. 

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you.  That’s very clear.  And then we have a question from the Spanish news agency EFE based in Kenya, Ms. Mercedes Ortuño, and her question is:  “Is AFRICOM worried about a potential security vacuum in the wake of ATMIS withdrawal in Somalia?” 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Yes.  I touched upon this question before, and that’s one of these subjects that I discussed with President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud of Somalia and his staff, and they laid it out for me.  It’s yes, any transition – any transition is challenging, but they’re meeting that with solutions and building out their Somali National Army.  So in the process of their force generation model, in the transition for ATMIS and their phased withdrawal, they engaged with ATMIS and ATMIS has assured them that the withdrawal will be measured and phased across the rest of the year so that the federal forces or Somali National Army can get the handover of different FOBs or forward operating bases in a responsible manner to maintain security in a particular region.  So they’re doing a very measured approach, is led by Somali – on-the-ground Somali National Army, but the federal Government of Somalia is being very responsible and transparent on how the progress is going.   

So again, amidst of any ongoing ATMIS drawdown, al-Shabaab is looking to exploit any resultant security vacuum through harassing attacks and security forces, and the Somali National Army realizes that and they’re shoring up their defenses to be able to take that amidst some of the transition or transfer of different bases.  So on occasion high-impact attacks in Mogadishu and elsewhere can result from that, but I am optimistic that the Somali federal government understands what the threat is in this transition.  So we’ll continue to support our Somali partners, both from AFRICOM and more importantly across our whole of government, to ensure that this transition goes smoothly and responsibility – responsible ways to ensure that security and stability is maintained across those regions. 

MODERATOR:  All right, thank you, General.  We’ve gotten through a lot of questions this morning and I know that your time is limited, you’re – you’ve got a hard stop in just a few minutes.  If you don’t mind, I’d like to ask just one more question, and we can keep this very brief.  Agnes Helou of Breaking Defense asks:  “What was the outcome of the conference?  How did the participants, especially African countries, express their views regarding Russian and Chinese increased influence on the continent?”  That’ll be our last question for today. 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  This year’s African Chiefs of Defense Conference provided a wealth of valuable information and reflection.  So engaging with so many esteemed chiefs of defense, it was very enlightening and will significantly strengthen our collective security initiatives.  But as to that particular question, because that was one of the challenges that was illuminated and amplified throughout the conference – of misinformation and disinformation campaigns and the influence those campaigns have from the Russian Federation on African countries – yes.  So that was just not AFRICOM’s assessment or U.S. Government’s assessment.  This was the assessment across South – from South Africa to North Africa to East and West, across every region.  They spoke to that, the effects of instability, of disinformation campaigns in their respective countries.  So yes, it was pretty consistent whether we were talking about instability across the Sahel all the way down into South Africa, and I’m already seeing other news reports across the medium talking to that end, that it only continues from the Russian Federation.   

So these countries talked about it, they discussed it, they discussed how adaptation needs to be in place in the information space across their domains so that they can be very resilient against misinformation and disinformation campaigns with their own effective information campaigns that puts out the truth – the truth to their civil society and the truth across their whole of government – to be able to be resistant or resilient against some of these illicit activities in the information space propagated by the Russian Federation. 

MODERATOR:  All right.  Thank you very much, General, and I know that you have a hard stop, you have a busy schedule today, but I would like to ask if you have any final words for us this morning. 

GENERAL LANGLEY:  Again, I’ll just echo that this year’s African Chiefs of Defense Conference here in Gaborone, Botswana – first time it was on the continent, and I see that going forward that the – in the spirit and intent of the national security strategy that the African – our African partners want this conference here, because they want to own it, they want to lead it, but we – AFRICOM and the U.S. Government is here because we have common values and common objectives that will affect stability, security, and prosperity on the continent.  So this year’s African Chiefs of Defense Conference provided that wealth of valuable information, whereas we can take lessons learned into next year’s conference in 2025 with the same objectives but measured progress that will be achieved through our ways of achieving common objectives.  Thank you. 

MODERATOR:  All right.  That concludes today’s briefing.  I want to thank the commander of U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Marine Corps General Michael Langley, for joining us today.  Thank you also to all the journalists for participating.  A recording and transcript of today’s briefing will be distributed to participating journalists as soon as we can produce them.  If you have any questions about today’s briefing, you may contact the Africa Regional Media Hub at [email protected].  I would also like to invite everyone to follow us on Twitter, X, at our handle @AfricaMediaHub.  Thank you and have a good day.