WASHINGTON, Dec. 3, 2017 — Defense Secretary James N. Mattis said today that he was pleased with the results of the Aqaba Conference in Jordan, adding that the effort shows nations can work together to address shared threats.
Mattis told reporters traveling with him to Pakistan that the conference, focused on West Africa and sponsored by Jordan’s King Abdullah II, is “a reminder that when there's the political will … countries with different domestic agendas [and] different foreign policies can certainly work together.”
The conference was about undercutting or preventing the conditions that breed violent extremist organizations. A total of 44 senior officials and military leaders from concerned nations and international organizations attended.
This year, the focus was on West Africa. Past conferences focused on East Africa, Southeast Asia and the Balkans. The officials looked for ways to promote West African stability and regional security. Terror groups abound in the region, from Boko Haram and the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria to al-Qaida.
Opportunity to Listen
“Overall, for me, it was on opportunity to listen to them, because each area we operate is different from others,” Mattis said. The nations shared lessons learned in other areas, but he said no one was building a template that can be superimposed over the region.
“Lessons learned can be shared, but at the same time you have to size it up for its individual local conditions,” the secretary said. “With our approach to our military relations, we work by, with and through others, and in this case it is by, with and through African-led solutions to the instability of terrorism.”
While the participants needed no reminder of the importance of the meeting, Boko Haram launched a suicide attack on a market in Nigeria yesterday that killed at least 13 and wounded 53. It was a reminder, Mattis said, of “why we get together, why we share intelligence, and why we work by, with and through the African nations, and their organizations unique in this area.”
The program isn’t limited to military solutions, the secretary said. He stressed the need for whole-of-government approaches to the problems of violent extremism. “In this particular region we'll work through the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership to prevent the spread of violent extremism,” he said.
ISIS is being defeated in Iraq and Syria and the terror group is looking for fertile ground to transplant its noxious ideology, Mattis said, and Africa looks like that place to them.
“They've seen some efforts, for example, by ISIS to move to Libya,” Mattis said. “You saw us push them on their back foot in January,” he said, referring to a strike conducted by two B-2 Spirit bombers on two ISIS training camps in Libya.
“We've done it again a couple of months ago,” he said. “We're doing it as we speak now, and that's one of the reasons I met with the prime minister of Libya … [at the Pentagon] before we all got on the airplane coming out to the region here.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @GaramoneDODNews)