The four-star General, who commanded the US military intervention in Libya, had earlier expressed concern about the “stated intent” of the groups to work together, voiced most strongly by Boko Haram and AQIM.
And some analysts have pointed to the sophistication of its bombing of the United Nations headquarters in Nigeria’s capital Abuja last year, in which 23 died, as evidence of strengthened ties to other terrorist groups.
“Boko Haram has definitely taken inspiration from groups like al-Shabaab and AQIM, but current evidence for actual linkages isn’t compelling,” Alex Vines, head of the Africa programme at the Chatham House think tank, told The Daily Telegraph.
“While we see increasing sophistication in Boko Haram’s techniques, including the use of suicide bombings, much of Boko Haram’s agenda is still to do with Nigerian issues and not a broader radical Islamist agenda.”
Al-Shabaab demonstrated its chilling capacity to carry out attacks further afield in July 2010, when twin suicide bombings killed 74 football fans watching the World Cup Final in Uganda’s capital Kampala.
Within Somalia, the group is battling on many fronts, including against Kenyan and Ethiopian forces, and an African Union offensive in Mogadishu that has taken back much of the capital.
But an announcement by al-Qaeda chief Ayman al-Zawahiri formally welcoming al-Shabaab to its ranks has provoked concerns that the group is committed to exporting its terror tactics to the region and beyond.
Africa is an increasingly important arena for US counterterrorism efforts, as concern mounts that al-Qaeda affiliates are extending into unstable parts of Africa. An expeditionary base in the Horn of Africa and extensive military training and intelligence-gathering operations across the continent are just some of America’s counterterrorism strategies in the region.
“One of the key lenses that the United States looks at Africa through is counterterrorism,” added Vines. “Paradoxically, we’ve seen a deepening of the security relationship between the United States and Africa under President Barack Obama, whereas President George W. Bush is remembered more for his humanitarian activities on the continent.”