Chollet: World events offer challenges and opportunities in fight against al-Qaida

Events throughout the Middle East and Africa in the last two years offer both challenges and opportunities as the U.S. and its partners fight al-Qaida, a senior Pentagon official said on Tuesday.

Derek Chollet, the assistant secretary of defense for international security affairs, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee's emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee on how emerging terrorism threats have impacted U.S. defense relationships in the Middle East and Africa.

"On the positive side, these developments hold great promise for people long denied freedom, dignity and opportunity," Chollet said. "Ultimately, we believe the democratic transitions will discredit violent extremists, provide a more enduring foundation for stability and cooperation, and better align our values and our interests."

Chollet said such significant change contains inherent risks.

"In particular, al-Qaida and other extremist organizations are seeking to exploit the uncertainty to establish new operating environments in ungoverned or poorly governed spaces," Chollet said.

Chollet said the Department of Defense is improving its military-to-military relationships with partners, increasing local capacity and supporting regional and international responses to terrorism.

"As part of the whole-of-government approach to combating (al-Qaida in the Arabian Peninsula), DoD is providing training and equipment to Yemeni security forces to build capacity and to conduct counterterrorism operations," Chollet said. "Also, in concert in with our (European Union) and Jordanian partners, we're providing advice to the Yemeni military as it reorganizes under a single chain of command under President (Abdu Rabu Mansour) Hadi."

Chollet said the support of Yemeni troops, the Libyan government and French forces in Mali is helping to contribute to stability in all three areas. He said the U.S. is also working closely with partners such as Turkey and Jordan to deal with serious humanitarian security concerns in Syria.

"The situation in Syria, along with that in Yemen, Mali, Libya and elsewhere, serves as a stark reminder that... the world remains combustible and complex," Chollet said.