The Project on Middle East Democracy, the Center for International Policy, and Security Assistance Monitor present:

U.S. Counterterrorism Assistance: Challenges & Opportunities from Latin America, the Middle East, and Africa

Tuesday, September 16, 2014
12:30 pm – 2:00 pm
Dirksen Senate Office Building, Room G-11

With the President’s announcement of a $5 billion Counterterrorism Partnerships Fund in late May, the Obama administration is greatly expanding U.S. foreign security assistance to combat terrorism around the world. Yet, reports on similar U.S. counterterrorism assistance in the past have shown many challenges with such assistance. Some of these challenges include U.S. trained military units being ineffective in addressing the security threat to the same forces committing serious human rights violations. By highlighting research and assessments done on U.S. counterterrorism assistance to countries in Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, this briefing will provide needed details on these challenges as well as opportunities to more effectively provide such U.S. security assistance.

Please join us for a discussion with:

Dafna Rand
Leon E. Panetta Fellow and Deputy Director of Studies, Center for a New American Security

Adam Isacson
Senior Associate for Regional Security Policy, Washington Office on Latin America

Lesley Anne Warner
Africa Political-Military Analyst

For a full summary, keep reading or click here for the PDF.

Dafna Rand spoke on American security assistance in the Middle East, highlighting four components of security assistance and how they can be used to create more effective aid. First is the flexibility of authorities within the Defense Department, State Department, and Intelligence Community; however Rand questioned if this flexibility improves programming. She believes there is a need for flexibility in where money is spent between these agencies, but should not sacrifice the tactical efficacy of the training programs administered. Next, she said the issue of definitions needs more attention. Rand pointed to the common refrain, “One man’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter” to express the difficulty in finding consensus between America and Middle Eastern partners on who is a terror threat.  The topic is further muddled when assessing human rights abuses and treatment of political dissidents in these countries.

Third is efficacy, and she used the example of the Iraqi army’s collapse during the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant’s offensive to question the effectiveness of American training. She asked if the U.S. can truly increase another military’s capacity.  Rand suggests that now is the time to implement oversight on whether American money is working. Lastly, she discussed accountability in security assistance. The Leahy vetting requirements, which requires background vetting be conducted on groups before they receive training, is a good step. Rand said this accountability to human rights should be proactive, and the ability to include accountability into assistance laws and requirements is necessary.

Adam Isaacson then discussed the security assistance environment for Latin America.  American security assistance to this region has historically focused on combating drug production and distribution, not necessarily terrorism. He said that despite Latin America not being a top counterterrorism priority, there is a significant risk due to transnational criminal organizations, gangs and revolutionary forces. Isaacson explained these groups in Latin America weaken governance and rule of law by penetrating governments and corrupting public servants. A challenge to security is when assistance blindly increases a government’s military or police force without being vetted for human rights abuses or corruption. He warned that giving these security forces increased capabilities does not necessarily ensure that officials will not be susceptible to bribery or coopted by criminal organizations. Isaacson also explained that the majority of assistance solely focuses on improving security sector capabilities and not reforming or improving governance, rule of law and justice, which is critical to countering illicit activities.

Finally, Lesley Anne Walker spoke on the security assistance issues in Africa. She commented that U.S. counter terror assistance to Africa is relatively small but growing. The increased attention on African security can be seen with the Obama Administration announcing the Security Governance Initiative in Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Nigeria and Tunisia. Warner said a main challenge to the effectiveness of American security assistance in Africa is the partner country’s willingness and ability to implement the programs. Many African countries have weak governments that cannot afford (either with manpower or money) to implement changes or the programs provided by the U.S., which represents a challenge to effective assistance. She also noted the lack of end-use monitoring, as well as a lack of oversight of trainee behavior after graduating from American training programs. The focus on outputs, such as numbers of trainees graduated, rather than outcomes, such as what those trainees go on to do in their careers, can be counterproductive. Warner concluded by saying it is difficult to declare security assistance effective because there are examples of both success and failure within Africa, and it is often difficult to determine correlation and causation.