On Point: Into AFRICOM


by Austin Bay
October 8, 2008

With the establishment of the Pentagon's new regional command for Africa,AFRICOM, addressing the complex political and social challenges of the Africancontinent moves from diplomatic afterthought to shrewd long-term effort. The newtheater command became operational Oct. 1.

For decades, American diplomats serving in Africa -- particularlysub-Saharan Africa -- referred to their region as "the neglected continent." Irecall a conversation in the early 1990s with a U.S. Army officer tasked withsupporting military attaches serving in embassies in southern Africa. Overbreakfast he lamented the persistent lack of funds and personnel hampering StateDepartment and Pentagon programs. U.S. military command structure reflected the"afterthought" status. Operations and assistance programs for most of Africawere administered by U.S. European Command (USEUCOM). Central Command (CENTCOM)had a chunk of Africa's northeast. Pacific Command (PACOM) was responsible forislands off Africa in the Indian Ocean.

Budgeteers and Cold War strategists made a bottom-line argument for thedivision. During the Cold War, Africa was an "economy of force" theater, withEurope and northern Asia the geo-strategic focus. Southern Command (SOUTHCOM),responsible for Central and South America, also rated a secondary effort.

Throughout the 1990s the structure remained, despite the Great Congo War(which still simmers, with 4 million to 5 million deaths attributable to theconflict), Rwanda's genocide, al-Qaida's 1998 terror attacks on U.S. EastAfrican embassies, the gruesome Ethiopia-Eritrea War and a tangled spectrum ofviolent conflicts.

Sept. 11 changed the calculus regarding "distant nuisances" in "isolated"Third World regions. The formation of AFRICOM is a political statement by theUnited States that it learned something from 9-11 and intends to be involved inchaotic corners that international terrorists have used as bases (e.g.,Afghanistan). The new command is a developmental aid program nesting within abare-bones military command. Call it pre-emptive diplomacy -- politically,economically and militarily assisting a region so that it does not degenerateinto a battlefield.

The headquarters' mission statement emphasizes interagency cooperation.AFRICOM "in concert with other U.S. government agencies and internationalpartners, conducts sustained security engagement ... to promote a stable andsecure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy." Interagencycooperation -- particularly State Department integration -- is absolutelyessential. That's why AFRICOM's deputy commander is a career Foreign Serviceofficer.

People understand the role of soldiers in warfare, but in 21st centurystruggles where economic and political development are determinative, anarborist at the Department of Agriculture and a Commerce Department tradeconsultant can be powerful contributors to "Unified Action."

"Unified Action" is a rather dry term for a very important concept --coordinating and synchronizing every "tool of power" America possesses (not justmilitary power) to achieve a political end like winning a war against terroristswho hijack economically and politically fragile nations.

CENTCOM's Coalition Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is aworking model for AFRICOM. When I visited CJTF-HOA's headquarters in Djibouti in2005, my escort officer, Marine Col. Craig Huddleston, described his job as"waging peace" in a very difficult place plagued by war, poverty, al-Qaida anddisease. Poverty may not create international terrorists, but poverty, socialturmoil, starvation, lack of infrastructure and weak political systems attractthem. Africa and the Horn suffer from all of these afflictions, which is whyCJTF-HOA's operations included police training, developmental assistance,intelligence cooperation and medical aid.

The deep challenge of "sustained security" is fostering and reinforcingstable and just economic, political and social systems. This is an incrementalstrategy. It is also a very smart strategy if Congress and future Americanpresidential administrations have the intelligence and tenacity to support it.

To find out more about Austin Bay and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.

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