Washington D.C. – House Armed Services Committee Ranking Member Congressman Adam Smith made the following opening statement at today’s hearing on evolving security situation in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and implications for U.S. national security:
Thank you Mr. Chairman. I would like to welcome our witnesses today and thank them for appearing to talk about this important topic.
The United States faces complex national security challenges across Africa. The terrorism and violent extremism that plague the continent, along with instability, corruption, governance, poverty, illicit trafficking, and more, combine into a potent mix that threatens the long term prospects of the African people, our interests, and the interests of our friends and partners. Nowhere are these challenges more apparent than in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), particularly in the eastern portion of the country.
The Eastern Congo has been mired in seemingly endless conflict and an insidious cycle of instability. It is a crisis that has, by some estimates, led to the death of over 5 million people over the last 14 years, an untold amount of sexual violence and the current displacement of nearly 1.5 million people.
The United States has clear strategic national security interests in the DRC due to its size, location, and especially because instability within the DRC can breed instability within the broader region. The government of the DRC cannot project law and order in much of its territory nor secure its borders and we know that Al Qaeda and affiliated groups are present in East Africa and in West Africa and are looking for places for safe haven.
Any U.S. effort to address this instability has to take a “whole of government” approach. Diplomacy and development, under the direction of the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), have the primary responsibility. But they can do nothing if there is no security. To that end, then, the Department of Defense, through U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), has a significant role to play. Capacity-building efforts like those in place in Uganda to address the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) are an example of the way in which AFRICOM can play a significant role in the whole of government approach to promote American priorities within Africa and help inform our response to the Eastern Congo’s lack of security.
As AFRICOM has recognized, Africans are best suited to solve African security challenges. The U.S. has trained the first of what was originally intended to be multiple Congolese Army battalions in 2010. Our assistance provided for basic military training, of course, but also the sharing of values that are intrinsic to our armed forces, such as military justice, human rights, civil-military relations, rule of law and defense resource management – qualities that many military organizations in the region lack. From accounts on the ground, this battalion has been well regarded by those who have observed it in action. Too often the Congolese military (FARDC) are the perpetrators of violence and abuse. Additional training could go a long way toward the development of a meaningful Congolese security force that is not only capable but respects human rights.
This process of enabling our partners to better deal with our shared security challenges is the way forward here. We have had success with this model in the Philippines, Somalia and Yemen, for a comparatively small amount of resources and troops. It is the right approach: it presents a light footprint, and it is also fiscally responsible in a time of tight resources.
The key to any partnership is that both partners believe they share mutual interests and work toward mutual goals. The US is fortunate in that we have a long-standing relationship with the DRC, Uganda, and Rwanda and so together we can work to achieve a long-term peaceful solution. As noted in the recent United Nations Group of Experts Report, however, the support DRC’s neighbors are providing to the primary rebel group, M23, is deeply concerning and must stop. The United States has cut off military aid to Rwanda in response but more can be done to hold to account anyone providing significant support to the M23. Additionally, today the House will take up the Conference Report on the FY2013 National Defense Authorization Act, which will go a long way to reduce the financial support available for the M23 and potentially limit its ability to undermine stability in the region.
While the challenges in the Eastern Congo may seem daunting, there is hope. It is an incredibly robust region with massive potential. The Congolese are anxious to grow and create greater opportunity, and end the constant displacement. If they can achieve peace and stability, there is an abundant amount of opportunity for the DRC, the region, and the world.
I look forward to engaging with our expert witnesses today and continuing the dialogue about how best to achieve peace and stability in the Eastern Congo. Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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