Priorities Set U.S. Africa Command’s Agenda

STUTTGART, Ger­many, June 11, 2012 — After a year of sig­nif­i­cant change sweep­ing the African con­ti­nent – a wave of demo­c­ra­t­ic move­ments, the emer­gence of South Sudan as the world’s newest nation and an increase in vio­lent extrem­ism, among them – U.S. Africa Com­mand is using the new defense strate­gic guid­ance to shape its engage­ment in the the­ater.

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“In line with the new strate­gic guid­ance, we’ve pri­or­i­tized our efforts, focus­ing on the great­est threats to Amer­i­ca, Amer­i­cans and Amer­i­can inter­ests,” Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, Africom com­man­der, told the Sen­ate Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee in March.

Ham’s strat­e­gy, encap­su­lat­ed in an eight-page com­mand strat­e­gy doc­u­ment pub­lished in Sep­tem­ber, is based on four top pri­or­i­ties:

  • Coun­ter­ing ter­ror­ism and vio­lent extrem­ist orga­ni­za­tions;
  • Coun­ter­ing pira­cy and illic­it traf­fick­ing;
  • Part­ner­ing to strength­en defense capa­bil­i­ties; and
  • Prepar­ing for and respond­ing to crises.

All sup­port two guid­ing prin­ci­ples, Ham explained dur­ing an inter­view with Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice at his head­quar­ters here: that a safe, secure and sta­ble Africa is in the Unit­ed States’ nation­al inter­ests, and that Africans are best suit­ed to address African secu­ri­ty chal­lenges.

No Africom effort gets high­er billing than its ini­tia­tives aimed at elim­i­nat­ing ter­ror­ist safe havens and sup­port for ter­ror­ist orga­ni­za­tions intent on attack­ing the Unit­ed States and its cit­i­zens, allies and inter­ests abroad.

“Coun­ter­ing the threats posed by al-Qai­da affil­i­ates in East and North­west Africa remains my No. 1 pri­or­i­ty,” Ham said.

But for secu­ri­ty to take hold in Africa for the long-term, Ham also rec­og­nizes the impor­tance of strength­en­ing African part­ners’ defense capa­bil­i­ties so they can address their own secu­ri­ty chal­lenges. He not­ed ongo­ing efforts to increase capac­i­ty in peace­keep­ing, mar­itime secu­ri­ty, dis­as­ter response and oth­er key areas. The gen­er­al not­ed the val­ue of this invest­ment, from “train-the-train­er” ses­sions con­duct­ed at the tac­ti­cal lev­el to leader devel­op­ment pro­grams that will have pos­i­tive long-term strate­gic impli­ca­tions.

“We are plant­i­ng seeds, if you will, and allow­ing those to devel­op and grow,” he said, not­ing that it’s all being done with no per­ma­nent­ly assigned forces and lim­it­ed forces on the ground.

“I think we get a dis­pro­por­tion­ate pos­i­tive effect for a rel­a­tive­ly small invest­ment,” Ham said. “We don’t use lots of troops. Gen­er­al­ly, our exer­cis­es and engage­ments are pret­ty small-scale.” They typ­i­cal­ly involve an indi­vid­ual ship, a small group of Marines, Seabees or vet­eri­nar­i­ans, or a main­te­nance detach­ment, he explained.

“But the effect is mul­ti­plied, because our focus is on train­ing and enabling the Africans to do things for them­selves,” he said. “So there is a com­pound­ing effect that results from our engage­ment.”

Army Maj. Gen. Charles Hoop­er, Africom’s direc­tor of strat­e­gy, plans and pro­grams, said Africom’s small force struc­ture, lim­it­ed assets and rel­a­tive­ly small bud­get makes it a Defense Depart­ment mod­el as it puts into prac­tice new strate­gic guid­ance that empha­sizes lean­er, more agile oper­a­tions.

“If you look at the strate­gic guid­ance, it talks about a small foot­print,” he said. “And I would say that Africa Com­mand is the quin­tes­sen­tial small foot­print, pro­vid­ing the max­i­mum return and the max­i­mum impact for our nation­al poli­cies with lim­it­ed resources. We have become mas­ters at pro­vid­ing the max­i­mum return on invest­ment.”

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