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 Africom: the new US military command for Africa

On February 6, 2007, President Bush announced that the United States  would create a new military command for Africa, to be known as Africa  Command or Africom. The Bush administration wants to significantly  expand its security assistance program for regimes in Africa that are  willing to act as surrogates, says Daniel Volman. It also reflects  the growing alarm at the efforts of China to expand its energy  supplies in Africa and to extend its political influence on the  continent.  

(November 15, 2007) On February 6, 2007, President Bush announced that the United States  would create a new military command for Africa, to be known as Africa  Command or Africom. Throughout the Cold War and for more than a  decade afterwards, the U.S. did not have a military command for  Africa; instead, U.S. military activities on the African continent  were conducted by three separate military commands: the European  Command, which had responsibility for most of the continent; the  Central Command, which oversaw Egypt and the Horn of Africa region  along with the Middle East and Central Asia; and the Pacific Command,  which administered military ties with Madagascar and other islands in  the Indian Ocean.  

Until the creation of Africom, the administration of U.S.-African  military relations was conducted through three different commands.  All three were primarily concerned with other regions of the world  that were of great importance to the United States on their own and  had only a few middle-rank staff members dedicated to Africa. This  reflected the fact that Africa was chiefly viewed as a regional  theater in the global Cold War, or as an adjunct to U.S.-European  relations, or—as in the immediate post-Cold War period—as a region of  little concern to the United States. But when the Bush administration  declared that access to Africa’s oil supplies would henceforth be  defined as a “strategic national interest” of the United States and   proclaimed that America was engaged in a Global War on Terrorism  following the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on September 11, 2001, Africa’s status in U.S. national security policy and   military affairs rose dramatically.  

According to Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense  for African Affairs—the highest ranking Defense Department official  with principal responsibility for Africa at the Pentagon, who has  supervised U.S. military policy toward Africa for the Bush  administration—Africom attained the status of a sub-unified command  under the European Command on 1 October 2007, and is scheduled to be  fully operational as a separate unified command no later than 1  October 2008. The process of creating the new command will be  conducted by a special transition team—which will include officers  from both the State Department and the Defense Department—that will  carry out its work in Stuttgart, Germany, in coordination with the  European Command.  

Africom will not look like traditional unified commands. In  particular, there is no intention, at least at present, to assign the  new command control over large military units. This is in line with  ongoing efforts to reduce the presence of large numbers of American  troops overseas in order to consolidate or eliminate expensive bases  and bring as many troops as possible back to the United States where  they will be available for deployment anywhere in the world that  Washington wants to send them. Since there is no way to anticipate  where troops will be sent and the Pentagon has the ability to deploy  sizable forces over long distances in a very short time, Washington  plans to keep as many troops as possible in the United States and  send them abroad only when it judges it necessary. This, however, was  exactly the intention when the Clinton and Reagan administrations  created the Central Command and based it in Tampa, Florida; and now  the Central Command is running two major wars in southwest Asia from  headquarters in Qatar.  

Africom will also be composed of both military and civilian  personnel, including officers from the State Department and the U.S.  Agency for International Development, and the commander of the new  command will have both a military and a civilian deputy. On 10 July  2007, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates announced that the President  had nominated four-star General William E. “Kip” Ward to be the  commander of Africom. General Ward, an African-American who was  commissioned into the infantry in 1971, is currently serving as the  deputy commander of the European Command. Previously he served as the  commander of the 2nd Brigade of the 10th Mountain Division (Light  Infantry) in Mogadishu, Somalia during “Operation Restore Hope” in   1992-1994, commander of the NATO-led Stabilization Force in Bosnia  during “Operation Joint Forge” in 2002-2003, and chief of the U.S.   Office of Military Cooperation at the American Embassy in Cairo,  Egypt. The novel structure of the new command reflects the fact that  Africom will be charged with overseeing both traditional military  activities and programs that are funded through the State Department  budget (see below for details on these programs).  

The Bush administration has emphasized the uniqueness of this hybrid  structure as evidence that the new command has only benign purposes  and that and that, in the words of Theresa Whelan, while “there are  fears that Africom represents a militarization of U.S. foreign policy  in Africa and that Africom will somehow become the lead U.S.  Government interlocutor with Africa. This fear is unfounded.”  Therefore, Bush administration officials insist that the purpose of  Africom is misunderstood.  

On closer examination, however, the difference between Africom and  other commands—and the allegedly “unfounded” nature of its  implications for the militarization of the continent—are not as real   or genuine as the Bush administration officials would have us  believe. Of course Washington has other interests in Africa besides  making it into another front in its Global War on Terrorism,  maintaining and extending access to energy supplies and other  strategic raw material, and competing with China and other rising  economic powers for control over the continent’s resources; these  include helping Africans deal with the HIV/AIDS epidemic and other  emerging diseases, strengthening and assisting peacekeeping and  conflict resolution efforts, and responding to humanitarian  disasters. But it is simply disingenuous to suggest that  accomplishing these three objectives is not the main reason that  Washington is now devoting so much effort and attention to the  continent. And of course Washington would prefer that selected  friendly regimes take the lead in meeting these objects, so that the  United States can avoid direct military involvement in Africa,  particularly at a time when the U.S. military is so deeply committed  to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and preparing for possible  attacks on Iran. The hope that the Pentagon can build up African  surrogates who can act on behalf of the United States is precisely  why Washington is providing so much security assistance to these  regimes and why it would like to provide even more in the future.  Indeed, as argued below, this is actually one of the main reasons  that Africom is being created at this time.  

So why is Africom being created and why now? I would argue that the  answer to this question is twofold. First, the Bush administration  would like to significantly expand its security assistance programs  for regimes that are willing to act as surrogates, for friendly  regimes—particularly in countries with abundant oil and natural gas  supplies—and for efforts to increase its options for more direct  military involvement in the future; but it has had difficulty getting  the U.S. Congress and the Pentagon to provide the required funding or  to devoting the necessary attention and energy to accomplish these  tasks. The creation of Africom will allow the administration to go to  the U.S. Congress and argue that the establishment of Africom  demonstrates the importance of Africa for U.S. national security and  the administration’s commitment to give the continent the attention  that it deserves. If Africa is so important and if the  administration’s actions show that it really wants to do all sorts of   good things for Africa, it hopes to be in a much stronger position to  make a convincing case that the legislature must appropriate  substantially greater amounts of money to fund the new command’s  operations. And within the Pentagon, the establishment of Africom as  a unified command under the authority of a high-ranking officer with  direct access to the Secretary of Defense and the Joint Chiefs of  Staff will put the new command in a much stronger position to compete  with other command for resources, manpower, and influence over  policymaking.  

Secondly, key members of the Bush administration, a small, but  growing and increasingly vocal group of legislators, and influential  think tanks have become more and more alarmed by the growing efforts  of China to expand its access to energy supplies and other resources  from Africa and to enhance its political and economic influence  throughout the continent. These “alarmists” point to the considerable  resources that China is devoting to the achievement of these goals  and to the engagement of Chinese officials at the highest level— including President Hu Jintao and Premier Wen Jiabao, both of who  have made tours of the continent and have hosted high-level meetings  in Beijing with African heads of state—as evidence of a “grand  strategy” on the part of China that jeopardizes U.S. national  security interests and that is aimed, ultimately, at usurping the  West’s position on the continent. The creation of Africom, therefore,   should be seen as one element of a broad effort to develop a “grand  strategy” on the part of the United States that will counter, and  eventually defeat, China’s efforts. It should also be understood as a   measure that is intended to demonstrate to Beijing that Washington  will match China’s actions, thus serving as a warning to the Chinese   leadership that they should restrain themselves or face possible  consequences to their relationship with America as well as to their  interests in Africa.  

So, what will Africom actually do when it becomes fully operational?  Basically, it will take over the implementation of a host of  military, security cooperation, and security assistance programs,  which are funded through either the State Department or the Defense  Department. These include the following: Bilateral and Multilateral Joint Training Programs and Military  Exercises  

The United States provides military training to African military  personnel through a wide variety of training and education programs.  In addition, it conducts military exercises in Africa jointly with  African troops and also with the troops of its European allies to  provide training to others and also to train its own forces for  possible deployment to Africa in the future. These include the  following:  

Flintlock 2005 and 2007  

These are Joint Combined Exchange Training (JCET) exercises conducted  by units of the U.S. Army Special Forces and the U.S. Army Rangers,  along with contingents from other units, to provide training  experience both for American troops and for the troops of African  countries (small numbers of European troops are also involved in  these exercises). Flintlock 2005 was held in June 2005, when more  than one thousand U.S. personnel were sent to North and West Africa  for counter-terrorism exercises in Algeria, Senegal, Mauritania,  Mali, Niger, and Chad that involved more than three thousand local  service members. In April 2007, U.S. Army Special Forces went to  Niger for the first part of Flintlock 2007 and in late August 2007,  some 350 American troops arrived in Mali for three weeks of Flintlock  2007 exercises with forces from Algeria, Chad, Mali, Mauritania,  Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, France, the  Netherlands, and the United Kingdom. Both Flintlock exercises were  conducted as part of Operation Enduring Freedom—Trans-Saharan Counter- Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP) which now links the United States with  eight African countries: Mali, Chad, Niger, Mauritania, Nigeria,  Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria. In 2004, the TSCTP was created to  replace the Pan-Sahel Counter-Terrorism Initiative, which was  initiated in 2002. The TSCTP also involves smaller, regular training  exercises conducted by U.S. Army Special Forces throughout the  region. Although changing budgetary methodology makes it difficult to  be certain, it appears that the TSCTP received some $31 million in FY  2006, nearly $82 million in FY 2007, and is expected to receive  approximately $100 million annually from FY 2008 through FY 2013.  

Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program (ACOTA)  

This program, which began operating in 2002, replaces the African  Crisis Response Initiative launched in 1997 by the Clinton  administration. In 2004, it became part of the Global Peace  Operations Initiative. ACOTA is officially designed to provide  training to African military forces to improve their ability to  conduct peacekeeping operations, even if they take place in hostile  environments. But since the training includes both defensive and  offensive military operations, it also enhances the ability of  participating forces to engage in police operations against unarmed  civilians, counter-insurgency operations, and even conventional  military operations against the military forces of other countries.  By FY 2007, nineteen African countries were participating in the  ACOTA program (Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana,  Kenya, Malawi, Mali, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda,  Senegal, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia). New budgetary  methodology makes it impossible to ascertain the levels of funding  for ACOTA, since the program’s funding is subsumed within the budget   for the Global Peace Operations Initiative. 

International Military Education and Training Program (IMET

The IMET program brings African military officers to military  academies and other military educational institutions in the United  States for professional training. Nearly all African countries  participate in the program—including Libya for the first time in FY  2008—and in FY 2006 (the last year for which country figures are  available—it trained 14,731 students from the African continent  (excluding Egypt) at a cost of $14.7 million.  

Foreign Military Sales Program (FMS)  

This program sells U.S. military equipment to African countries; such  sales are conducted by the Defense Security Cooperation Agency of the  Defense Department. The U.S. government provides loans to finance the  purchase of virtually all of this equipment through the Foreign  Military Financing Program (FMF), but repayment of these loans by  African governments is almost always waived, so that they amount to  free grants. In FY 2006, sub-Saharan African countries received a  total of nearly $14 million in FMF funding, and the Maghrebi  countries of Morocco and Tunisia received almost another $21 million;  for FY 2007, the Bush administration requested nearly $15 million for  sub-Saharan Africa and $21 million for the Morocco and Tunisia; and  for FY 2008, the administration requested nearly $8 million for sub- Saharan Africa and nearly $6 million for the Maghreb.  

African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS Program)  

This program provides specialized equipment (such as patrol vessels  and vehicles, communications equipment, night vision devices, and  electronic monitors and sensors) to African countries to improve  their ability to patrol and defend their own coastal waters and  borders from terrorist operations, smuggling, and other illicit  activities. In some cases, airborne surveillance and intelligence  training also may be provided. In FY 2006, the ACBS Program received  nearly $4 million in FMF funding, and Bush administration requested  $4 million in FMF funding for the program in FY 2007. No dedicated  funding was requested for FY 2008, but the program may be revived in  the future.  

Excess Defense Articles Program (EDA)  

This program is designed to conduct ad hoc transfers of surplus U.S.  military equipment to foreign governments. Transfers to African  recipients have included the transfer of C-130 transport planes to  South Africa and Botswana, trucks to Uganda, M-16 rifles to Senegal,  and coastal patrol vessels to Nigeria.  

Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA)  

In October 2002, the U.S. Central Command played the leading role in  the creation of this joint task force that was designed to conduct  naval and aerial patrols in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the  eastern Indian Ocean as part of the effort to detect and counter the  activities of terrorist groups in the region. Based at Camp Lemonier  in Djibouti, long the site of a major French military base, the CJTF- HOA is made up of approximate 1,400 U.S. military personnel—primarily   sailors, Marines, and Special Forces troops—that works with a multi- national naval force composed of American naval vessels along with  ships from the navies of France, Italy, and Germany, and other NATO  allies. The CJTF-FOA provided intelligence to Ethiopia in support of  its invasion of Somalia in January 2007 and used military facilities  in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya to launch its own attacks against  alleged al-Qaeda members involved in the Council of Islamic Courts in  Somalia in January and June of 2007. The command authority for CJTF- HOA, currently under the U.S. Central Command, will be transferred to  Africom by 2008.  

Joint Task Force Aztec Silence (JTFAS)  

In December 2003, the U.S. European Command created this joint task  force under the commander of the U.S. Sixth Fleet (Europe) to carry  out counter-terrorism operations in North and West Africa and to  coordinate U.S. operations with those of countries in those regions.  Specifically, JTFAS was charged with conducting surveillance  operations using the assets of the U.S. Sixth Fleet and to share  information, along with intelligence collected by U.S. intelligence  agencies, with local military forces. The primary assets employed in  this effort are a squadron of U.S. Navy P-3 “Orion” based in  Sigonella, Sicily. In March 2004, P-3 aircraft from this squadron and  reportedly operating from the southern Algerian base at Tamanrasset  were deployed to monitor and gather intelligence on the movements of  Algerian Salafist guerrillas operating in Chad and to provide this  intelligence to Chadian forces engaged in combat against the guerrillas.  

Naval Operations in the Gulf of Guinea  

Although American naval forces operating in the oil-rich Gulf of  Guinea and other areas along Africa’s shores are formally under the  command of the U.S. Sixth Fleet, based in the Mediterranean, and  other U.S. Navy commands, Africom will also help coordinate naval  operations along the African coastline. As U.S. Navy Admiral Henry G.  Ulrich III, the commander of U.S. Naval Forces (Europe) put it to  reporters at Fort McNair in Washington, DC, in June 2007, “we hope,  as they [Africom] stand up, to fold into their intentions and their  planning,” and his command “will adjust, as necessary” as Africom   becomes operational. In a significant expansion of U.S. Navy  operations in Africa, the U.S.S. Fort McHenry amphibious assault ship  will begin a six-month deployment to the Gulf of Guinea in November  2007. The ship will carry 200-300 sailors and U.S. Coast Guard  personnel and will call at ports in eleven countries (Angola, Benin,  Cameroon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the  Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Ghana, Nigeria, Sao Tome and  Principe, and Togo). Its mission will be to serve as a “floating  schoolhouse” to train local forces in port and oil-platform security,   search-and rescue missions, and medical and humanitarian assistance.  According to Admiral Ulrich, the deployment matches up perfectly with  the work of the new Africa Command. “If you look at the direction  that the Africa Command has been given and the purpose of standing up  the Africom, you’ll see that the (Gulf of Guinea) mission is closely   aligned,” he told reporters.  

Base Access Agreements for Cooperative Security Locations and Forward  Operating Sites  

Over the past few years, the Bush administration has negotiated base  access agreements with the governments of Gabon, Kenya, Mali,  Morocco, Tunisia, Namibia, Sao Tome, Senegal, Uganda, and Zambia.  Under these agreements, the United States gains access to local  military bases and other facilities so that they can be used by  American forces as transit bases or as forward operating bases for  combat, surveillance, and other military operations. They remain the  property of the host African government and are not American bases in  a legal sense, so that U.S. government officials are, technically,  telling the truth when they deny that the United States has bases in  these countries. To date, the United States has done little to  improve the capabilities of these facilities, so that there is little  or no evidence of an American military presence at these locations.  

In addition to these publicly acknowledged base access agreements,  the Pentagon was granted permission to deploy P-3 “Orion” aerial  surveillance aircraft at the airfield at Tamanrasset in southern  Algeria under an agreement reportedly signed in during Algerian  President Aldelaziz Bouteflika’s visit to Washington in July 2003.  The Brown and Root-Condor, a joint venture between a subsidiary of  the American company, Halliburton, and the Algerian state-owned oil  company, Sonatrach, is currently under contract to enlarge military  air bases at Tamanrasset and at Bou Saada. In December 2006, Salafist  forces used an improvised mine and small arms to attack a convoy of  Brown and Root-Condor employees who were returning to their hotel in  the Algerian town of Bouchaaoui, killing an Algerian driver and  wounding nine workers, including four Britons and one American.  

Over the course of the next eighteen months, there is one major issue  related to the new command that remains to be resolved: whether and  where in Africa will Africom establish a regional headquarters. A  series of consultations with the governments of a number of African  countries—including Morocco, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti, Kenya— following the announcement of Africom found than none of them were  willing to commit to hosting the new command. As a result, the  Pentagon has been forced to reconsider its plans and in June 2007  Ryan Henry, the Principal Deputy Under-Secretary of Defense for  Policy told reporters that the Bush administration now intended to  establish what he called “a distributed command” that would be  “networked” in several countries in different regions of the  continent. Under questioning before the Senate Africa Subcommittee on  1 August 2007, Assistant Secretary Whelan said that Liberia,  Botswana, Senegal, and Djibouti were among the countries that had  expressed support for Africom—although only Liberia has publicly  expressed a willingness to play host to Africom personnel—which  clearly suggests that these countries are likely to accommodate  elements of Africom’s headquarters staff when they eventually  establish a presence on the continent sometime after October 2008.  

Daniel Volman is the director of the African Security Research  Project in Washington, DC, and the author of numerous articles on US  security policy and African security issues. This article is a revised and shortened version of an article that  will be published in the next issue of The Review of African  Political Economy. This article first appeared in Pambazuka, and may be viewed at www.pambazuka.org.

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