U.S. Must Con­vey What Africa Com­mand Will, Won’t Be, Offi­cials Say

By Don­na Miles
Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice

As U.S. Africa Com­mand pre­pares to go ful­ly oper­a­tional, one of its big chal­lenges will be com­mu­ni­cat­ing not only what it aims to achieve, but also what it doesn’t, senior offi­cials at the Pen­ta­gon and at the new com­mand agree.

AfriCom, which began ini­tial oper­a­tions Oct. 1, is slat­ed to become an inde­pen­dent uni­fied com­mand three months from today. This will make it a full-fledged geo­graph­ic com­bat­ant com­mand on par with U.S. Euro­pean Com­mand, Pacif­ic Com­mand, South­ern Com­mand and Cen­tral Com­mand, focus­ing on the African con­ti­nent.

AfriCom will be respon­si­ble for all U.S. mil­i­tary activ­i­ty in Africa. The one excep­tion will be Egypt, which will remain under U.S. Cen­tral Com­mand.

The goal, as described by Army Gen. William “Kip” Ward, AfriCom’s com­man­der, is to work in tan­dem with oth­er U.S. gov­ern­ment agen­cies and inter­na­tion­al part­ners to help African nations deal with a full range of chal­lenges. AfriCom will sup­port this effort through mil­i­tary-to-mil­i­tary pro­grams, mil­i­tary-spon­sored activ­i­ties and oth­er oper­a­tions, all aimed at pro­mot­ing a sta­ble, secure Africa, the gen­er­al said.

Navy Adm. Mike Mullen, chair­man of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters while vis­it­ing the George C. Mar­shall Euro­pean Cen­ter for Secu­ri­ty Stud­ies here last week that the Unit­ed States rec­og­nizes the “huge­ly impor­tant issues to be addressed in Africa.”

“That’s one of the rea­sons we stood up AfriCom, because it’s such an impor­tant con­ti­nent for us,” he said.

Mullen cit­ed Africa’s tremen­dous resources, but said it faces great chal­lenges as well, from pover­ty and dis­ease to threats includ­ing ter­ror­ists seek­ing safe haven.

“It’s a place where there are oppor­tu­ni­ties for ter­ror­ists to evolve,” he told the AfriCom staff while vis­it­ing their head­quar­ters. “We have to address those things, because if we don’t, they are com­ing our way. Either we have to engage them or they are com­ing to us as a coun­try, and actu­al­ly, as a world.”

The AfriCom head­quar­ters will become ful­ly oper­a­tional a decade after the near-simul­ta­ne­ous Aug. 7, 1998, ter­ror­ist attacks on the U.S. embassies in Dar es Salaam, Tan­za­nia, and Nairo­bi, Kenya. The 10 years since then have wit­nessed addi­tion­al ter­ror­ist activ­i­ty, includ­ing the dou­ble car-bomb­ing of a Unit­ed Nations build­ing in Algiers in Decem­ber. Mullen told the AfriCom staff that the Pan-Sahel region and Horn of Africa are par­tic­u­lar con­cerns.

Amer­i­cans his­tor­i­cal­ly have looked east and west to face off threats, but Mullen said AfriCom and South­Com show increas­ing recog­ni­tion that the focus needs to go beyond that. “Amer­i­ca doesn’t look north and south to its own detri­ment,” he said.

Despite wide­spread recog­ni­tion of the chal­lenges fac­ing Africa, Mullen acknowl­edged last week that AfriCom has suf­fered from mis­con­cep­tions about its intent. He told reporters at the Mar­shall Cen­ter that the command’s standup has met with “some pret­ty stiff resis­tance” from Nige­ria, South Africa and some oth­er coun­tries in the region or with ties to it.

“I think some of it is tied to the new­ness of it,” Mullen told reporters after a town hall meet­ing at the AfriCom head­quar­ters. “We have not been … heav­i­ly engaged in Africa his­tor­i­cal­ly, so there are ques­tions from peo­ple on the con­ti­nent. There are ques­tions from those who have been engaged his­tor­i­cal­ly, some of the for­mer coun­tries who were colo­nial pow­ers in that part of the world.”

Mullen said the Unit­ed States needs to con­stant­ly repeat the intent behind AfriCom to clear up those ques­tions and dis­pel mis­con­cep­tions. But ulti­mate­ly, he said, actions will speak loud­er than words. “I fun­da­men­tal­ly believe we com­mu­ni­cate most effec­tive­ly through our actions,” he told the AfriCom town hall ses­sion.

The Unit­ed States has no inter­est in a big troop pres­ence in Africa, the chair­man said. AfriCom’s head­quar­ters will remain in Stuttgart — also home to EuCom, which has had pri­ma­ry respon­si­bil­i­ty for Africa — for at least the next sev­er­al years.

“It is my view that it is much more impor­tant to empha­size projects and engage­ment than it is foot­print,” Mullen said.

Navy Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, AfriCom’s deputy com­man­der for mil­i­tary oper­a­tions, empha­sized dur­ing an address at the Brook­ings Insti­tute ear­li­er this month that the com­mand also has no inten­tion of step­ping on the toes of oth­er orga­ni­za­tions’ work there. He said the com­mand will sup­port — not dis­rupt or con­fuse — ongo­ing U.S. gov­ern­ment, inter­na­tion­al and non­govern­men­tal efforts in Africa.

Ward described mil­i­tary engage­ment the Unit­ed States already has with Africa dur­ing tes­ti­mo­ny before the House Armed Ser­vices Com­mit­tee in March. U.S. sol­diers and Marines pro­vide mil­i­tary train­ing to African peace­keep­ers and pro­fes­sion­al devel­op­ment at the indi­vid­ual and unit lev­el. The Air Force con­tributes air­lift and logis­ti­cal sup­port. U.S. forces pro­vide spe­cial oper­a­tions coun­tert­er­ror­ism train­ing teams to strength­en nation­al capa­bil­i­ties and enhance multi­na­tion­al coop­er­a­tion. The Navy and Coast Guard are help­ing African nations increase mar­itime safe­ty and secu­ri­ty.

“Our intent is to enable them to pro­vide for their own secu­ri­ty,” Ward told the com­mit­tee.

He cit­ed oth­er U.S. agen­cies that also con­tribute toward this effort. The State Department’s Africa Con­tin­gency Oper­a­tions Train­ing and Assis­tance pro­gram has helped pre­pare thou­sands of African troops for inter­na­tion­al peace­keep­ing mis­sions. In addi­tion, U.S. forces work hand in hand with the U.S. Agency for Inter­na­tion­al Devel­op­ment to sup­port numer­ous human­i­tar­i­an mis­sions in Africa, he not­ed.

Moeller stressed that AfriCom isn’t try­ing to move into the for­eign pol­i­cy realm or mil­i­ta­rize U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy. Rather, he said, the com­mand will sup­port the State Depart­ment and oth­er U.S. agen­cies work­ing in Africa.

Ambas­sador Mary Car­lin Yates, AfriCom’s deputy for civ­il-mil­i­tary affairs and for­mer ambas­sador to Ghana and Burun­di, said the command’s mix of “hard” and “soft” pow­er ele­ments in a sin­gle orga­ni­za­tion will bring added val­ue to ongo­ing oper­a­tions in Africa. While help­ing to bring capac­i­ty to the Africans, she said, it will sup­port oth­er pro­grams by the Unit­ed States and oth­ers.

Ward took that mes­sage to Lis­bon ear­li­er this month for a meet­ing with the Com­mon­wealth of Por­tuguese Speak­ing Nations. The group con­ducts peace­keep­ing oper­a­tions and dis­as­ter response exer­cis­es with five African nations: Ango­la, Cape Verde, Guinea Bis­sau, Mozam­bique, Sao Tome and Principe.

“Every nation around the world ben­e­fits from a sta­ble and secure Africa, but each has lim­it­ed resources to apply toward secu­ri­ty capac­i­ty-build­ing efforts,” Ward told the Com­mon­wealth of Por­tuguese Speak­ing Nations rep­re­sen­ta­tives. “Togeth­er we can coop­er­ate to bring coher­ent pro­grams to the African con­ti­nent.”

Like oth­ers, Ward said has heard the “Why now?” ques­tions about AfriCom’s standup. As he escort­ed Mullen around the command’s head­quar­ters facil­i­ties last week, he said the more sig­nif­i­cant ques­tion should be: “Why not now?”

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