From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Wed Nov 18 2009 - 08:28:16 EST
Think Again: Africom
U.S. Africa Command was launched to controversy and has been met with
skepticism ever since. Behind two years of mixed messages, a coherent
mission might finally be emerging. Here's what you need to know about the
world's next U.S. military hub.
BY ELIZABETH DICKINSON | NOVEMBER 18, 2009
As if the U.S. military weren't busy enough in Iraq and Afghanistan, it's
now got another project looming: building an entirely new Africa Command
from the ground up. For years, the Department of Defense split the continent
between three existing commands - Central, European, and Pacific. But on
February 6, 2007, the George W. Bush administration announced that Africa
was finally going to get individual attention.
If the move was meant as demonstration of Africa's crucial importance to the
United States, however, it was received as more of an insult. From the
moment that U.S. Africa Command (Africom) was even mentioned, rumors began
to fly. The command was surely looking for a permanent home on the African
continent, critics said, and the new military organization would lead to a
burgeoning U.S. military presence in the region. Some, including most of the
governments in Sub-Saharan Africa, feared a sort of neocolonial U.S.
engagement. Meanwhile, Africom failed (and still fails) to clearly explain
its mission, adding credibility to the rampant doubts.
Two years later, fevers have cooled, but Africom remains a contentious
issue. Here's a look at what the command really is (and isn't), and why it
fits in quite nicely with the world of counterinsurgency traditionally left
to commanders in the Middle East and Central Asia.
"Africom was created to fight terrorism."
Only in part. To understand the question, it's important to look first at
one of the most seemingly simple yet actually most devilish questions about
the command: What does Africom really do? After the command's launch two and
a half years ago, even the U.S. government struggled to figure that out.
Africom's civilian counterparts in the State Department, for example, felt
both confused and threatened. How did they fit in, now that Africom would be
running the show? The command's impenetrable and vague
<http://www.africom.mil/AboutAFRICOM.asp> mission statement doesn't help
matters. Africom, it says, "conducts sustained security engagement through
military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other
military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African
environment in support of U.S. foreign policy."
This internal lack of direction is one reason that Africom has been so
vulnerable to criticism. It's clear that Africom's main job is to get to
know African militaries - to help train them, to help boost their
professionalism, and to generally serve as a good example to countries, many
of which have never had a military that was subservient to a civilian
government. Part of this will be enabling African countries to staff U.N.
peacekeeping missions, a project already begun under the State Department's
Global Peace Operations Initiative.
But after that, things get fuzzier. Analyst J. Peter Pham, director of the
Africa Project at the National Committee on American Foreign Policy,
mentions energy security as one primary goal. "[T]he significance of Africa
for the United States' energy security cannot be underestimated," he wrote
in The Brown Journal of World Affairs in the Fall/Winter of 2008. Places
such as Nigeria are becoming the default big suppliers as policymakers shift
dependence away from the Middle East.
And yes, terrorism is important too, not least because it's probably the
most pressing concern from the U.S. perspective. One good indication about
how the United States started looking at Africa after the September 11
attacks was the Pan-Sahel initiative, an attempt to boost the capacity of
local troops in Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger to find and root out local
terror. A second initiative, the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Initiative,
followed two years later, adding five more countries to the list. Such
programs reflected a shift in security mentalities that began to see
poverty, discontent, and poor governance as root grievances associated with
terror. And they'll certainly continue under Africom.
So for those worried about an oppressive U.S. military presence in Africa,
the question may be less what the U.S. troops are doing as what missions
they are training African troops to carry out. And here, it is myopic to see
Africa purely in terms of terrorism, oil, and peacekeeping. All three of
these key interests, while critical to the United States, are less likely to
be the complaints of your average African. Much more needed than
counterterror squads is good policing, any resident of Johannesburg or Lagos
will tell you. But pickpockets and armed robbers don't score too high as
U.S.-dubbed strategic threats.
For some African countries, a strong military may even be counterproductive,
particularly if other sectors of the government fail to improve in tandem.
As one analyst put it at a recent conference on Africom, making the military
more professional than the government sounds like a recipe for a coup. Look
no further than Guinea for proof: The military takeover of November 2008,
was initially greeted with protests of joy on the streets of a country
cursed by decades of lethargic and corrupt civilian leadership. If that
military has been trained in counterterrorism tactics, one can imagine the
relative ease with which they could put down any would-be opposition.
"Africom wants to find a base on the continent."
No -- at least, not now. Of all the rumors that clouded Africom's rollout
two years ago, none was more persistent than the idea that Africom was
looking for an African base. It didn't help dispel whispers when several
African governments unilaterally condemned Africom and refused to welcome
U.S. troops; Liberia was the only country that offered to play host.
But Africom is not searching for a base today, even if it had been before
getting so seriously spurned. From its current locale in Stuttgart, Germany,
Africom is well positioned for its so far limited tasks (which, as
mentioned, still need clear definition) and has no desire to move. It has no
permanent troops at its disposal, so the command has to request men through
the Department of Defense as tasks arise. And as for the rest of Africom's
1,300-staff, which includes 300 Special Operations, 250 intelligence, and a
big chunk of civilians, getting around Africa is actually easier from
Stuttgart than, say, Monrovia. To fly from West to East Africa, you have to
fly through Europe anyway.
Might Africom have a real presence in Africa someday? Many believe that the
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), founded separately in
2002 and now under Africom's purview, might be a sign of what is to come.
Based in Djibouti, the 1,500-person troop and civilian contingent has been
active in regional training programs, counter terror, intelligence
operations, and humanitarian assistance. Call it a trial run?
"Africom will militarize foreign aid."
Perhaps. A major objection to Africom has been the fear that the new command
would "militarize" foreign aid, with soldiers taking over traditionally
civilian tasks. The danger would be twofold: Not only would the military be
less effective in carrying out humanitarian jobs, but it would compromise
the neutrality of independent aid workers, as the line between military and
civilian blurred. The State Department was among the first to raise this
concern. As an
t_report_criticizes_africa_bureau> Office of the Inspector General report
released this summer explained, there was "considerable internal debate
[within the Africa Bureau] about the wisdom of military funding of U.S.
development and public diplomacy activities in Africa."
The fear stems from the very real dominance of Africom, and the Defense
Department in general, over the State Department when it comes to manpower,
funding, and agility. Africom's emphasis on development as one of the major
means of "conflict prevention" also raises questions about what the military
will be doing. And the military's hands are usually far less tied by
paperwork, earmarks, and procurement restrictions than civilian agencies,
particularly the notoriously bureaucratic U.S. Agency for International
Lacking any clear policy on the matter, a de facto solution has arisen,
summed up neatly in the Department of Defense's
<http://usacac.army.mil/cac2/repository/FM307/FM3-07.pdf> field manual on
Stability Operations: "Many stability operations tasks are best performed by
indigenous, foreign, or U.S. civilian professionals. Nonetheless, U.S.
military forces should be prepared to perform all tasks necessary to
establish or maintain order when civilians cannot do so." In other words, if
State can't do it, Defense will -- so long as it has the funding and
The jury is still out as to whether this emerging shift of responsibility is
a good one. Sometimes, the military is indeed right for the job -- for
example, when the task is actual military training, funds for which are
today still allocated to State. There are also nonmilitary situations in
which soldiers can be useful: When the civilian government in South Africa
was still denying the HIV/AIDS epidemic, the U.S. military helped train
South African soldiers in prevention -- a sort of "back door" public health
measure. Africom's military staff would rather not become the developers,
and they readily acknowledge that this is not, and should not be, their
role. But lacking the civilian capacity to fill the gap, they might just
have to adapt.
"The fight between the Department of State and the Department of Defense in
Africa is over."
If it is, Congress didn't get the memo. Over the last two years, there has
been a decrease in the tension between the U.S. State Department and the
Department of Defense over the division of tasks in Africa. But while the
two agencies are now largely in agreement that Africa needs a civilian surge
(Defense Secretary Gates once lamented that the military personnel on one
aircraft carrier outnumbered the entire Foreign Service), Congress hasn't
caught up. Revamping the State Department with a massive increase in
personnel, funding, and jurisdiction, a promise made by current U.S.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is as yet a pipe dream.
Why is it so hard to get funding for State? In many ways, State's relative
decline is a vicious cycle: Congress believes that State lacks capacity to
carry out projects, so it assigns them elsewhere, often to Defense, which is
relatively more equipped. Each time this happens, State loses a chance to
build itself up, and so Congress's impressions are reinforced.
To be fair, some in Congress may be starting to catch on. A recent flap over
information operations (IO), the blanket term for military programs meant to
"influence, disrupt, corrupt or usurp adversarial human and automated
decision making while protecting our own," according to the
<http://www.dtic.mil/doctrine/jel/doddict/> Department of Defense
dictionary, shows that Congress is beginning to question whether the DoD
should always win out over State. IO overlaps with Public Diplomacy, a task
traditionally held within the State Department but increasingly carried out
by Defense. The House Committee on Appropriations
ning_hearts_and_minds?page=full> recently cut the Department of Defense's
budget for IO in half, explaining, "The Committee has serious concerns about
not only the significant amount of funding being spent on these programs,
but more importantly, about the Department's assumption of this mission area
within its roles and responsibilities."
Still, no big change is in sight for the balance of power between the
military and civilian sides. For the moment, Africom will have to muddle
"Africom will be a command 'unlike any other'"
It will have to be. Africom promises to be "
<http://www.africom.mil/AboutAFRICOM.asp> A Different Kind of Command," with
staff from multiple U.S. agencies and a mandate that differs substantially
from other military posts. Africa command even drew on a revolutionary new
military doctrine that added steps to the traditionally defined four-phase
process of U.S. military engagement: deter/engage, seize initiative,
dominate, and transition. Africom falls into a new "phase zero," before any
of these other four: conflict prevention. According to a participant at a
recent Africom conference, that means doing everything possible to avoid
having to get involved in "another 25-year Plan Colombia" to clean up a
long-term, well-entrenched mess -- a reference to the $5-billion plus
involvement of the United States in that country's drug and insurgency
What remains to be seen is how well this mission can come together. Africom
has quite a similar job to, say, forces in Afghanistan who are hoping to
rebuild broken militaries, foster economic growth, and all the while boost
daily security. The counterinsurgency and the African Security worlds are
beginning to merge, or at least mix, in the world of ideas in Washington.
The two groups may well share also their failure or success.
----[This List to be used for Eritrea Related News Only]----