AFRICOM, tasked to consolidate U.S. military responsibilities for all of Africa, excluding Egypt, which will remain a CENTCOM area of operation (AO), and with a 2009 budget in excess of $400 million dollars, is due to be operational October 1st, 2008. Having failed to secure long-term operational locations on the African continent, its 1300-personnel strong command and control (C2) will remain at its current location at kelley’s Barracks in Stuttgart. Instead, it created thirteen regional offices called Offices of Defense Cooperation (ODC) that will operate out of U.S. embassies; it will also benefit from the support of the Defense Attachés Offices (DAO) which, organically, are a DIA element. Within the next four years, AFRICOM intends on opening eleven more ODC offices. The bulk of AFRICOM personnel will deploy to host nations from Stuttgart on liaison and planning missions as needed.
AFRICOM’s attempts to find a location for its headquarters were hampered by the Bush administration’s greatly eroded credibility. Its initial “peace time” military engagements in the continent underscored to many African observers a neocolonialist agenda driven by an urgent need to secure energy supplies and reduce its reliance on Middle Eastern oil, extend the U.S. counterterrorism campaign, and counterbalance China’s growing influence in Africa.
Worry swept the continent. Kenyan senior diplomat Bethuel Kiplagat said: “U.S. equates terrorism with Islam.” Many in Africa believe that AFRICOM aims, through the bases it purportedly intends to build on the continent, at keeping a sensing finger on the pulse of its Moslem population. African nations that acquiesced to hosting AFRICOM’s offices and personnel are seeing as inviting U.S. surveillance on their own citizenry. The numerous official visits of its commanding general, General William E. Ward, to African capitals were unsuccessful in dispelling African public’s skepticism of the alleged good will of the Bush administration.
From AFRICOM’s perspective, African nations are havens for terrorist training camps and smuggling routes. Their territories hide huge expanses of ungoverned spaces that Moslem terrorists and extremist groups use as regrouping bases from which attacks could be hatched and murderous teams could be launched. In recent years, Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations expanded their operations to Africa where disenchanted youths make ideal recruits and former anti government entities rally with its cause. Maritime blind spots such as the Gulf of Guinea are ideal hiding places for smugglers and terrorists. They are poorly covered by a system the U.S. Navy uses worldwide to track ships. AFRICOM’s mission is to correct such shortcomings; the mission has installed equipment to reduce this “sea blindness, while instructors teach martial arts and leadership to host nation militaries. With its “soft power” programs, it tackles a litany of issues and supports a large spectrum of efforts to alleviate Africa’s crippling food and water shortages, to mend the shameful human rights track of its ineffective governments, and to address its monumental medical problems. Over the past seven years, the U.S. aid to African nations tripled, reaching $9 billion annually.
The leadership of AFRICOM and its strategists saw an imminent need to deemphasize the command’s military might and lower its negative public profile and keep it away from controversy. They scaled down its ambitious initiative and devised a policy to bring forth the soft power of the Pentagon’s venture into the continent, thus easing its adjustment to the African political landscape. The policy calls for military elements supporting AFRICOM to engage in humanitarian missions; U.S. Army soldiers could be seeing vaccinating cattle in Nigeria and providing medical and dental assistance in remote villages in Morocco; U.S. Navy Seabees actively dug wells and built schools in Uganda. The U.S. military undertakes such activities alongside host nations’ militaries, which in the African public’s eye are seeing as a governmental oppression tool, to enhance the image of both. To improve global security and forge closer and stronger ties with its African allies, the policy launched a number of programs such as “Good Boat Diplomacy” and “Africa Partnership Station” which provides comprehensive training programs on maritime safety and security initiating African militaries to such complex operations as Vessel Boarding Search and Seizure (VBSS) and Oil platform take down.
While AFRICOM is champing at the bit to get moving, it is also bridling itself; its failure to seduce the African nations, to a certain extent, is self-inflicted. The security requirements and force protection measures outlined for U.S. overseas government installations are so draconian that they infringe with the sovereignty of the host nation. There are no overt U.S. installations abroad that are not collocated with a fortified embassy or consular complex, or heavily protected by a combat ready military element. This of course is in addition to the taxing security detail the host nation is forced to provide.
AFRICOM is also plagued with internal issues. It is designed to be a model for a new interagency structure that would coordinate “hard” and “soft” U.S. power. However, there is no government mechanism to create an interagency headquarters. USAID and other government development partners worried that the military will overshadow or take over their development programs that are already established in Africa. Aid groups protested plans to expend the military’s role in economic development programs in the continent. To soften a typically aggressive military approach and opting for a more deliberative tack, Gen. Ward is retooling AFRICOM military mission stirring it away from development and toward military focused programs such as peacekeeping, military, and counterterrorism training and education; the Pentagon also submitted to U.S. DoS that its personnel be given senior positions within the command; thus, U.S. Agency for International Development personnel were assigned to AFRICOM and a Senior DoS diplomat was assigned as one of two deputies under U.S. Army General Ward. The decision making power, however, will remain with the military.
Why are the U.S., China, and other powerful nations so interested in Africa today? Africa is a virgin territory in the world hegemony game. Its markets are coveted; its oil reserves yet to be exploited. Since the U.S. is the principle target of Moslem extremism today, AFRICOM prepares African nations to fight Islamic insurgents so it won’t have to. Ugandans, for instance, are being trained to go to Somalia to combat Islamic extremists.
Ahmed T. B. Copyright © 2008