Sheehan: U.S. must help partners improve counterterrorism capabilities

The U.S. must keep taking decisive action and helping partners grow their counterterrorism capabilities against al-Qaida affiliates, according to a senior Pentagon official.

Michael Sheehan, the assistant secretary of defense for special operations and low-intensity conflicts, spoke before the Senate Armed Services Committee's emerging threats and capabilities subcommittee on Tuesday. Sheehan praised the special operations community for targeting significant al-Qaida leadership and networks as the terrorist group's affiliates seek sanctuary in the Middle East and North Africa.

"(The United States) cannot allow al-Qaida to have sanctuary with impunity," Sheehan said. "A year ago, if I testified from here, I would've been talking about al-Qaida controlling massive swaths of territory in Yemen... and Somalia. In both cases, they've been rolled back."

Sheehan said the U.S. strategy includes developing low-cost, small-footprint, innovative approaches to achieving important security objectives.

"The task of training, advising and partnering with foreign military security forces has moved from the periphery to become a critical skill set across our armed services," Sheehan said.

Sheehan said multinational forces worked with citizens in Yemen to roll back al-Qaida and worked with the African Union as part of a U.N. peacekeeping operation in Somalia to get rid of terrorists.

"The French have pushed (al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb) out of the major cities in north Mali, and we're working to create a U.N. operation to follow that," Sheehan said.

Sheehan told the community that legislation to authorize equipping and training host-nation forces has been essential to the U.S. in building antiterrorism efforts against al-Qaida in the last year.

Sheehan said al-Qaida has operated under the name al-Nusrah Front to portray itself as part of the legitimate Syrian opposition against Bashar al-Assad's regime.

"Al-Nusrah Front is, in fact, an attempt by (al-Qaida in Iraq) to hijack the struggles of the Syrian people for its own malign purposes, attempting to establish an al-Qaida-governed state in the region," Sheehan said.