By David Ruderman, U.S. Army Africa Public AffairsFebruary 14, 2011
VICENZA, Italy - Dozens of scholars, politicians and soldiers gathered in Marrakech, Morocco, Jan. 20-22 for the second annual convocation of the Marrakech Security Forum.
U.S. Army Africa (USARAF) Commander, Maj. Gen. David R. Hogg, attended the event, which was hosted by the African Federation for Strategic Studies (FAES) with support from the Moroccan Center for Strategic Studies (CMES).
Prof. Mohammed Benhammou of FAES, the event organizer and moderator, welcomed participants and turned the floor over to Pieter de Crem, the Belgian Minister of Defense.
Hogg spoke next, describing the structure and mission of USARAF and its higher headquarters, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), and discussed the threats all countries face from terrorist movements to their stability and well-being.
Following the initial plenary session, participants broke up into discussion groups. Hogg attended a session that focused on redefining the threats and security risks against stability and development in Africa in general, and the Sahel region in particular.
The discussion provided considerable, high quality food for thought, said Lt. Col. Uli Calvo, North Africa Desk Officer, Security Cooperation Directorate, USARAF.
"The conference was focused on the developing threat of AQIM (al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) in the trans-Sahel region in Africa, and just basically terrorism around the world," he said.
For instance, a Belgian participant presented a synopsis of responses to terrorist activities in Indonesia during the past decade, and a Mexican delegate discussed the evolution of the war waged there against narcotics networks.
"That was the primary focus," Calvo said.
A second plenary session focused on Algeria, which Hogg had recently visited. The theme was "From the GSPC (Salafist Group for Preaching and Combat) to AQIM: The transformation of the Algerian terrorist group to a branch of al-Qaida." A range of scholars and government representatives made presentations on the subject of the group's evolution, which also proved very interesting, he said.
Among the discussions were two competing views of how terrorism evolves, Calvo said.
One view sees terrorist organizations and activities as driven by poverty, while another view ascribes the motivation to political injustice.
"I think that the conventional wisdom is that poverty is the root cause of terrorism," Calvo said. "But the problem with that is that you're criminalizing the poor. There are regions in Africa, and around the world, where poverty is widespread but instances of terrorism are statistically insignificant."
The debate continues.
Other themes over the course of the three-day forum included discussions of AQIM's activities and strategic objectives; its evolution from jihad to narcoterrorism; the interconnections among illegal trafficking, terrorism and political conflict; AQIM's accommodation with criminal gangs; connections between regional terrorist movements and global organizations; and the development of regional strategies for combating terrorism in the Sahel.
Throughout the course of the forum, Hogg was continually greeted by participants he had met on previous trips to the continent and by individuals who had heard of him and wanted to make his acquaintance, the great majority of them from sub-Saharan Africa, Calvo said.
Hogg also spoke with reporters from RTM (Radiodiffusion-Television Marocaine) and 2M TV, the official government television channels, and to Radio Africa 1, a French radio network with a wide reach across the continent.
"General Hogg's response to reporters, the main thing he stressed was international cooperation - that countries with experience and expertise in responding to terrorism should help nations in the trans-Sahel build their own capacity to deal with it," said Calvo.
"Sharing their experience and lessons learned should help individual countries devise local solutions to local problems," he said.
Hogg also had to reiterate that neither U.S. Army Africa nor AFRICOM have any plans to establish a headquarters on the African continent, a notion that remains current in African perceptions and African media despite consistent clarification the contrary from American officials over the past several years.
Hogg and his party had the opportunity while in Marrakech to take a cultural tour and gain a first-hand insight into the power of tourism as a bulwark of the Moroccan economy, said Calvo.
"I think this visit was beneficial to the CG (Commanding General) in a couple of ways," said Calvo. "First, it exposed him to new developments having to do with AQIM and counterterrorism. And secondly, he was able to get a taste for Morocco in advance of his first formal visit there later this year."