AfriCom Part­ners With African Nations to Pro­mote Sta­bil­i­ty, Secu­ri­ty

By Ger­ry J. Gilmore
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

U.S. Africa Com­mand works in part­ner­ship with African nations to help make the con­ti­nent more secure against ter­ror­ism and crim­i­nal enter­pris­es and to pro­mote pros­per­i­ty, a senior defense offi­cial said at a Capi­tol Hill hear­ing here today.

“Sta­bil­i­ty and pros­per­i­ty in Africa are impor­tant to the long-term inter­ests of the Unit­ed States, because a secure and sta­ble, healthy, and more pros­per­ous Africa will con­tribute to glob­al secu­ri­ty and a stronger world econ­o­my,” There­sa Whe­lan, deputy assis­tant sec­re­tary of defense for African affairs, said dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny before the U.S. House Com­mit­tee on Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Reform.

AfriCom was stood up on Oct. 1, 2007, and its head­quar­ters is in Stuttgart, Ger­many. It will be respon­si­ble for all U.S. mil­i­tary activ­i­ty in Africa, with the excep­tion of Egypt, which falls under U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand. AfriCom is slat­ed to become an inde­pen­dent uni­fied com­mand Oct. 1.

Many secu­ri­ty chal­lenges that exist in present-day Africa, such as ter­ror­ism and inter­na­tion­al crim­i­nal activ­i­ty, are multi­na­tion­al and transna­tion­al in nature, Whe­lan point­ed out. As a result, African gov­ern­ments increas­ing­ly are turn­ing to col­lec­tive secu­ri­ty arrange­ments to meet the specters of ter­ror­ism and transna­tion­al crime, as well as the soci­etal chal­lenges pre­sent­ed by HIV/AIDS, oth­er dead­ly dis­eases, and famine, she said.

Any U.S. engage­ment with Africa needs to be coor­di­nat­ed with African insti­tu­tions estab­lished at the region­al lev­el in addi­tion to tra­di­tion­al bilat­er­al defense and mil­i­tary rela­tion­ships, she said.

Whe­lan said the estab­lish­ment of AfriCom “rep­re­sents an oppor­tu­ni­ty to strength­en and expand U.S. and African secu­ri­ty rela­tion­ships in such a way that our com­bined efforts can help gen­er­ate more indige­nous and there­fore more sus­tain­able peace and sta­bil­i­ty on the con­ti­nent.”

AfriCom’s cre­ation also reflects Defense Depart­ment efforts to inno­vate and become more flex­i­ble in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, ter­ror­ist attacks on the Unit­ed States, Whe­lan said, as well as con­cerns that transna­tion­al ter­ror­ists may attempt to estab­lish safe havens in Africa’s more remote and under-gov­erned regions.

Ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty in Africa pre­dates the 9/11 attacks, Whe­lan point­ed out. On Aug. 7, 1998, ter­ror­ists com­mit­ted near­ly simul­ta­ne­ous bomb­ings of the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tan­za­nia, and Nairo­bi, Kenya.

Through AfriCom, the Defense Depart­ment seeks to estab­lish part­ner­ships with African nations and insti­tu­tions to nip nascent ter­ror­ism in the bud, before it can take root, Whe­lan said.

AfriCom’s mil­i­tary engage­ment on the African con­ti­nent “will remain pri­mar­i­ly focused on build­ing secu­ri­ty part­ner­ship capac­i­ties, con­duct­ing the­ater secu­ri­ty coop­er­a­tion, build­ing impor­tant coun­tert­er­ror­ism skills, and, as appro­pri­ate, sup­port­ing U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies in imple­ment­ing oth­er pro­grams to pro­mote region­al sta­bil­i­ty,” Whe­lan said.

The U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment, she said, is among the orga­ni­za­tions that will work close­ly with AfriCom and its region­al African part­ners.

It is expect­ed that AfriCom will enable DoD civil­ian and mil­i­tary lead­ers “to take a more holis­tic and oper­a­tional­ly effi­cient approach to the oppor­tu­ni­ties and chal­lenges that lay ahead as Africa’s mul­ti­lat­er­al insti­tu­tions, such as the African Union and the region­al eco­nom­ic com­mu­ni­ties, fig­ure more promi­nent­ly in African secu­ri­ty affairs,” Whe­lan said.

AfriCom is an inno­v­a­tive com­mand that will focus on build­ing African region­al secu­ri­ty and cri­sis-response capac­i­ty, she said. The com­mand also “will pro­mote greater secu­ri­ty ties between the Unit­ed States and Africa,” while “pro­vid­ing new oppor­tu­ni­ties to enhance our bilat­er­al mil­i­tary rela­tion­ships and strength­en the capac­i­ties of Africa’s region­al and sub-region­al orga­ni­za­tions,” she added.

Ambas­sador Mary Car­lin Yates, AfriCom’s deputy to the com­man­der for civ­il-mil­i­tary activ­i­ties, who also tes­ti­fied at the hear­ing, echoed Whelan’s sen­ti­ments about AfriCom. Yates is a senior State Depart­ment for­eign-ser­vice offi­cer who has served as ambas­sador to Ghana and Burun­di.

AfriCom is “a lis­ten­ing, grow­ing and devel­op­ing orga­ni­za­tion ded­i­cat­ed to part­ner­ing with African gov­ern­ments, African secu­ri­ty orga­ni­za­tions, and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty to achieve the U.S. secu­ri­ty goals by help­ing the peo­ple of Africa achieve the goals that they have set for them­selves,” Yates said at the hear­ing.

Pres­i­dent Bush and Defense Sec­re­tary Robert M. Gates announced the cre­ation of U.S. Africa Com­mand on Feb. 6, 2007. The deci­sion was the result of a 10-year eval­u­a­tion that acknowl­edged the emerg­ing strate­gic impor­tance of Africa, and rec­og­niz­ing that peace and sta­bil­i­ty on the con­ti­nent affects not only Africans, but also the inter­ests of the Unit­ed States and the inter­na­tion­al com­mu­ni­ty.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)