Brigadier General Dagvin R.M. Anderson is the Commander, Special Operations Command Africa, headquartered at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany, and is responsible for the full spectrum of special operations activities conducted throughout Africa. He leads more than 1,700 U.S. military, interagency, and international military personnel operating throughout Africa and Europe.
Brig. Gen. Anderson has participated in several contingencies to include Operations Provide Comfort, Deny Flight, Deliberate Guard, Allied Force, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.
Brig. Gen. Anderson holds a master's degree in International Public Policy from the Paul H. Nitze School of Advanced International Studies, Johns Hopkins University. He was a Fellow at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, Harvard University, and was an Olmsted Scholar in the Czech Republic.
CTC: You previously served as the deputy director of operations for U.S. Indo-Pacific Command at Fort H.M. Smith in Hawaii, where, obviously, the focus was not on Africa. To what extent has your background and career, particularly your Special Operations career, informed how you approach this new geographic command?
Anderson: I spent three years in the Pacific--one year in Korea and then two years up at INDOPACOM--and that was quite valuable for me to see the other side of the world, literally. Fifty-two percent of the world is under INDOPACOM's AOR [area of responsibility]. To understand what we're up against when it comes to China, China's very much a threat to our way of life. I think that they are working very diligently to undermine the U.S.-led system, the Western way, including the economic system. They're looking to undermine that, to undo that system and replace it with an alternative that is very much in their favor. One of the things that the United States points to with great pride is that we have ensured peace and stability throughout the Indo-Pacific for over 70 years since World War II and created an environment that has allowed all nations in that region, including China, to prosper and to benefit.
That system being open and fair has allowed many nations to improve their positions in life, as they have economic growth: you can see it in Japan and Korea, and in China. Well, what that perspective gave me was that China is very much trying to undo that for their own gain. They try to break our alliances, break our partnerships in order to then leverage the partners individually, and the reason why that's important to what I'm doing now is that I see that model very much being exported into Africa. China's very good about getting into the international systems, using their leverage there to peel a few countries away to paralyze that international system, and then work very methodically in bilateral engagement, primarily through economic engagement, to then leverage those bilateral relationships to their advantage.
The PRC [People's Republic of China] has chosen to compete for natural resources, and to extract those resources for their own value. Obviously, there's lots of oil and natural gas; there's rare earth minerals that are vital to our technology sector on the continent; there's precious metals. These are things the other powers--China and Russia--are trying to corner the market on or to gain access [to]. There's also, if you look at the African continent, no matter which way you go, key passages that are important for our national security to ensure that we have, and that the world has, free access to--whether that's coming through the Straits of Gibraltar by Morocco, going through the Mediterranean down through the Suez Canal, or through the Red Sea out through the Bab al Mandab straits by Somalia. All of that is key terrain on key waterways. And then to go around the other way, the long way around Africa--obviously, a huge land mass--and being able to have the key ports where you can have your port calls for refueling, refitting, etc., are absolutely vital.
Africa sits on key terrain, and it's important that we engage. What I've seen is that all of these nations, pretty much every nation in Africa, has a concern about violent extremism and terrorism. And we bring great credibility and great value--Special Operations--to help them address that security concern. Being able to partner with them and address that security concern gives us access, gives us engagement opportunity and influence in order to then compete with these other global powers--China and Russia--to ensure we have access and the world has access to these resources as well that are vital to our economies.
CTC: Thinking about the general role of SOCAF on the continent, how do U.S. Special Operations work to uniquely meet the challenges that the United States and our partners face in Africa? To that end, what is your assessment of what African partners' special operations capabilities are and what needs they have?
Anderson: It varies. Africa is not monolithic. It's a single continent, but it's composed of multiple countries, multiple cultures, and multiple tribes with different ethnicities, so there's no blanket statement you could make that covers all of Africa, by any means. So I'll answer that by talking about a couple key partners that are, I think, exemplary of how the U.S. engages and what they need. I'll start in the east and talk about Kenya.
Kenya's been a very good partner for several years, a very competent country that is developing a capable military intelligence capability in order to counter a very existential threat right on their border, which is al-Shabaab. Obviously, Kenya is very interested in the stability of Somalia; that stability hinges on Somali ability to deal with and contain and disrupt and degrade al-Shabaab. So what the Kenyans have done over time is they have built a capable military force to address that. They're also developing a border patrol capability that's coming on line and becoming more capable. They've really invested in intel fusion capability, and all that speaks to their will to engage and to improve. I think one of things it speaks of the most is that Kenya has been one of our most introspective partners, and they've actually taken a look at some of their mistakes --from Westgate through the [Garissa University College] attack they had a couple years later to the Dusit [D]2 [attack] (1)--that Kenya has been willing to look at that and identify mistakes that they made or errors or gaps that they've had in their security capability, and then they've actually gone out and addressed [them].
That includes their integration between their military, civil, law enforcement, and their first responders, working with their medical response, because they understand that they have to be able to have a coherent, whole-of-government response to a terrorist attack and to prevent terrorist activity. They've done a lot of reflection on where they've made mistakes. They've been open, to some extent, to talking with other partners [about] where they could improve, and then making those improvements. Now, they've been incremental, but I think the Kenyans have done a very good job of doing that. Not many partners are willing to be that self-reflective. Kenya has really looked at how to improve the Kenya Ranger Regiment, how to improve their intelligence community, how to create a fusion cell. They developed an exploitation cell that is now becoming a highlight of their intelligence capability; they can actually take exploitable material off the battlefield and analyze that and turn that back into actionable intelligence and get that back to whether its border patrol, the police, or the military, to then take action on it.
To go back out to the west, I would say Niger is an example of a very willing partner. Niger is an incredibly poor country, a country that faces many challenges, a landlocked country that has a small economy, but what we see in Niger is a sense of pride in Niger, a national identity that transcends some of the tribal differences and grievances. They're able to come together, and we see a very willing partner when it comes to the CT fight. And while a great amount of illiteracy--around 70 percent of their population is illiterate--what we do see with their soldiers is they're very competent and...