A View from the CT Foxhole: An Interview with Major General Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., Commander, CJTF-HoA
January 20, 2015
A Note From the CTC Director: The CTC is launching what will be a recurring feature in the CTC Sentinel called, “A View From the CT Foxhole,” in which key counterterrorism practitioners and policymakers are interviewed by CTC staff about their perspective on contemporary issues in terrorism and political violence. We hope you enjoy this new initiative, and we look forward to receiving feedback from our readers on future interviewees and topics. To inaugurate this new feature, we interviewed Major General Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr.
Biography: Major General Wayne W. Grigsby, Jr., assumed command of the Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF-HoA) in January 2013. His prior assignments include Director of Army Training on the Army’s G-3/5/7 staff, Deputy Commanding General of Operations for the 1st Armored Division, Director of the Mission Command Center of Excellence, and Director of the School of Advanced Military Studies (SAMS) at Fort Leavenworth.
CTC: Can you briefly describe the strategic importance of CJTF-HoA, its area of responsibility, and the strategic role it plays in both U.S. national security interests and U.S. counterterrorism efforts writ large?
MG Grigsby: Located in Djibouti, CJTF-HoA is the only permanent U.S. military presence on the African continent, providing regional access and crisis response across East Africa, including Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Tanzania, South Sudan, and Somalia. We also sit just 80 miles from Yemen.
CJTF-HoA sits at the seams, both geographically and operationally. Geographically, we are located just south of the Bab-el-Mandeb strait, which is the strategic link between the Indian Ocean and the Mediterranean. Roughly 5 percent of the world’s oil passes through it each day.
Operationally, we are on the border of U.S. Africa Command and U.S. Central Command, and two additional combatant commands–U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Transportation Command–have significant equities here.
CJTF-HoA works by, with, and through our joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational teammates . . . actually, I think we work behind, beside, and below because we enable these regional actors to neutralize violent extremist organizations. We also enable counterterrorism efforts writ large by sharing information and building partner capacity. Ultimately, we are successful if we enable and assist East Africans to solve East African problems, one of which–I repeat, one of which–is combating terrorism.
CTC: When people think of combating terrorism in East Africa, most immediately think of al-Shabab. What is your current assessment of the group?
MG Grigsby: You are right. Most people immediately ask me about al-Shabab, but in many ways, one might consider al-Shabab to be a symptom of a larger disease, of larger drivers of instability. The sources of instability are found across East Africa, outside of Somalia and the immediate threat posed by al-Shabab.
These issues include lingering border tensions between Eritrea and Ethiopia and Djibouti; weak economies and a lack of jobs for an increasing number of youth; environmental degradation and risk of famine; enormous refugee populations; upcoming elections in Burundi and Uganda; a general lack of institutional capacity; and ungoverned spaces. These are the drivers of instability across CJTF-HoA’s area of responsibility. Al-Shabab and other groups like them feed on this instability and exploit it to their advantage.
I think there is an opportunity right now with respect to al-Shabab. The recent victories by the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) during Operation INDIAN OCEAN have liberated tremendous swaths of land in southern Somalia and eliminated sources of revenue for al-Shabab’s operations. Godane has been killed (Editor’s Note: Ahmed Godane was the leader of al-Shabab and was killed in September 2014), and al-Shabab’s command and control architecture is in flux. In short, al-Shabab is vulnerable. Coordinated, offensive action on the part of AMISOM could significantly degrade its capabilities even further.
That said, the recent horrific and cowardly massacre in Mandera (Kenya) highlights that al-Shabab remains a capable force. Moreover, Godane, while important to al-Shabab, was ultimately only one man. Given sufficient time and space, al-Shabab will reconstitute and reorganize. We cannot take them lightly.
CTC: So how do you expect al-Shabab to react to Godane’s death?
MG Grigsby: Think of it in terms of action-reaction-counteraction. Our action was to remove Godane from the battlefield. Al-Shabab will react. The group will go where AMISOM is not. Al-Shabab will go to where there is weakness.
So what’s our counteraction? We should continue to assist and enable our partners in order to help East Africans deal with East African problems. We need to continue building those tactical actions at the lowest level that assist them in neutralizing extremists.
But in the long-term, in building this partner capacity, we need to develop a professional Somali national army, to develop East African leaders and teach them what it means to be a part of a profession of arms within the region, not just within their respective countries, but within the region. There is a difference.
This is important because all of our authorities and all of our capabilities to support and assist are bilateral in nature. All those programs go straight to individual countries. By doing this, we have conditioned our partners–we have incentivized them–to think bilaterally instead of regionally. If we go bilateral, then we reinforce our East African partners to stay bilateral.
CTC: How do you go about encouraging our East African partners to see these problems through a regional lens?
MG Grigsby: The first thing is through living here on the continent. We wouldn’t be able to do what we do if we didn’t live in the same neighborhood as AMISOM’s troop-contributing countries. We’re here eating, sleeping, and working with our partners, and building relationships. You can’t do this virtually. You can’t do this via Facebook and Twitter. You need to be here. You have to be on the ground, building relationships with the embassies, the country teams, the chiefs of military defenses, the commanders in the field in Somalia and elsewhere.
We need to be building relationships based on trust, trust that is built through professional military education, mil-to-mil (military to military) engagements, exercises, and emails and correspondence. It is about looking these leaders in the eyes, and picking up the phone when they need help. It is about having the context. They know me, they know my kids, and I know theirs.
The United States is not going to have a large footprint here. If our counterterrorism efforts in places like East Africa are going to have smaller footprints, with small teams, then we need these small teams to have maximum effect. These small teams have to be well chosen and well led. They have to be personable, and they have to know what it means to have two ears and one mouth. They have to work on these relationships. You can’t just come in and out. You have to be here.
CTC: Looking beyond al-Shabab and outside of Somalia, what then are some of the more pressing regional issues in East Africa that you feel deserve more of our attention?
MG Grigsby: In many ways, the current situation in Somalia mirrors many of the challenges faced throughout East Africa. In particular, as al-Shabab is cleared from towns, the need for legitimate, reliable government institutions and support systems becomes apparent. Basic services such as access to potable water and food, medical care, impartial police and judicial systems–all the things we all too often take for granted in our lives–are lacking. These voids create the conditions under which extremist ideologies can take root. Somalia is probably the worst in this regard, but these challenges exist throughout East Africa.
So the partnership between the Department of Defense and State (U.S. Department of State) on security, governance, and development is very important. This new way we’re going to operate, with the Department of Defense working with and assisting our State Department teammates, is effective. But we need to line up some of the authorities to have a more regional approach and have them pushed down a little bit further so we can react faster down here at the tactical level. That would assist us and make us more effective.
CTC: You have been in the saddle as the Commander of CJTF-HoA for almost a year. What is the most surprising thing you have encountered about our efforts there?
MG Grigsby: When I first arrived in Djibouti and took command of CJTF-HoA, I was surprised to learn that, generally speaking, activities across East Africa were not being coordinated in time, space, and purpose–not only by the Department of Defense but also by the Department of State. As I previously mentioned, our relationships are almost exclusively bilateral, yet our problems are inherently regional.
While this shortcoming is largely structural and requires structural solutions, it can be mitigated through collaboration among interested parties. Accordingly, my Deputy Commanding Admiral Alex Krongard and I immediately made “develop and strengthen the joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational team” our primary line of effort, and we spent the next 10 months “beating the bushes” to fill our bench with committed teammates. It has involved tremendous energy and travel, but the effort has been worth it.
We are now positioned to leverage this team in a focused, more coordinated, and collaborative way to address instability in the Horn of Africa. To be sure, we have not achieved a 100-percent solution, and much of what we do is informal and based on personal relationships and energy. Nonetheless, we are trending in the right direction.
CTC: We recently learned that you have volunteered to extend your time at CJTF-HoA for another six months, which more than doubles the time your two predecessors each spent in the region. As you look ahead, what are the biggest challenges the United Stated faces in East Africa and what can the United States (and our allies) do to overcome them?
MG Grigsby: For starters, we must immediately understand that our ability to influence, let alone control, tactical actions on the ground will be very limited. It will be limited, and we may not like they way they do it.
Additionally, we will have very little control over the operational tempo, and we must accept this and demonstrate patience as our teammates move according to their own timelines. Of course, after years of directing operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, this reality is hard to accept, but it is reality nonetheless.
To overcome these challenges, we must remind ourselves that our way of doing things is not the only way. The alternative would require significant investments of American blood and treasure. Our perspective must be one of thanks for the sacrifices our teammates are making, and we must do everything we can with our limited budget and authorities to enable and assist their efforts.
Seeing the problem through their lens becomes crucial, and this requires building an environment of shared understanding through constant communication, with an emphasis on listening more and speaking less.
CTC: What is one thing that CTC Sentinel readers may not know about counterterrorism in the Horn of Africa but should?
MG Grigsby: Al-Shabab is not constrained by national borders, and, on occasion, it is opportunistically used to explain violence unrelated to its members or ideology. With this in mind, counterterrorism in East Africa requires a regional approach, where we leverage our expertise and resources to augment the nascent counterterrorism capabilities of our partners.
In the short term, this strategy prevents or at least reduces the rate and severity of al-Shabab’s attacks. In the long term, it creates an East African counterterrorism capability so that they can handle the problem on their own.
Over time, the security situation will improve, regional interdependence will increase, and government institutions will strengthen. When this happens economic growth should follow, and the unstable conditions under which al-Shabab thrives should gradually fade away, leaving behind only the most extreme ideologues who can be systematically and judiciously eliminated.
By analogy, and you have likely heard this before, one can think of the counterterrorism situation in East Africa as a swamp, where we deal with the alligators by the boat while simultaneously draining the water.
CTC: What is one underappreciated counterterrorism tenet or practice that is especially effective in the Horn of Africa that you believe can be exploited elsewhere in America’s counterterrorism fight?
MG Grigsby: As we build enduring counterterrorism partnerships and capabilities, nothing is more important–nothing is more important–than timely and responsible intelligence sharing. Of course, this is not something our systems are designed to facilitate, as information is often passed on U.S. classified networks in a compartmentalized manner. This is a significant issue within our own agencies, and the situation gets progressively worse as we incorporate foreign partners.
Recognizing this, we have spent the past year strengthening our relationships with our joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational partners. The collaboration and integration of Special Operations Forces with what we call General Purpose Forces in East Africa is the best I have seen in my 31 years of service, including seven years deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, Jordan, and now East Africa. It’s the best.
Moreover, we have recently flattened our own organizational structure by reorganizing a significant portion of our team into country-focused Fusion Action Cells, or FACs. These FACs operate in a large, unclassified, open workspace without cubicles or walls. They are staffed with foreign liaison officers from their respective countries.
This structure maximizes information sharing and builds mutual trust and relationships. It allows us to move faster against our adversaries because we have mutual trust and relationships. Our collective knowledge goes up, which allows us to gain, maintain, and exploit the initiative against our adversary as we try to solve problems.
CTC: This approach runs counter to what some perceive to be a risk-adverse, post-Snowden information sharing environment. How do you evaluate your efforts thus far?
MG Grigsby: We’ve been fully mission-capable since the beginning of November. It’s all about education and training. Ignorance gets you in trouble. I don’t want my team to train and educate our foreign liaison officers on what they can’t do when it comes to information sharing. I want them to educate and train them on what we can do to share information. Use the heliotropic effect. Go towards the positive.
We have consistently scared people since 2001 by focusing on what they can’t do when it comes to information sharing with our coalition partners. If we continue to operate in this manner, we will be shooting behind the duck constantly. It makes us slower and unable to keep pace with our adversaries. We must follow the rules, but show me how I can share information more effectively so we can build the team, build relationships based on trust, gain the initiative against our enemies, and take risks where we need to.
CTC: Imagine you were the CTC Sentinel editor for the next issue. What are one or two topics that you feel should be featured?
MG Grigsby: As I mentioned previously, CJTF-HoA is actively working to operate in the unclassified domain. While classified networks and traffic will always be necessary, this push in the unclassified domain allows us to share more freely with our partners and speeds up execution.
Based on my understanding, 98 percent of the CTC’s publications are at the unclassified level, and your work has provided tremendous insights that are widely respected. With this in mind, an article on the history, value, and potential of unclassified counterterrorism sources, data, and analysis would be extremely interesting.
CTC: Can you share with our readers what books, blogs, or journals you are currently reading?
MG Grigsby: I’m always reading about change, on how you change organizations. There’s a great book called Switch (by Chip and Dan Heath) and books by (John) Kotter about managing effective change. Life is about change and we’re in constant change. You have to keep pace with the environment when it changes. I’ve also been reading the Army Operating Concept and the work relating to the human dimension. I’m also trying to read a lot about Title 10, Title 22, and Title 50 authorities to see how we can shape those to operate better in this environment.