Peacekeeping: AFRICOM To The Rescue

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September 9, 2009: Earlier this year, the U.S. donated $9 million worth of vehicles, weapons and equipment to enable a battalion of the Tanzanian Army to join the peacekeeping force in Darfur (western Sudan). The Tanzanian troops also received training. Too often, however, donating money or equipment to African armed forces doesn't work. The corruption is so intense and pervasive in Africa, that even military equipment is either stolen (often by senior officials) for resale, or allowed to become inoperable because money for maintenance and spare parts is stolen. 

A recent effort to train Ugandan Air Force (Uganda People's Defense Force Air Wing) personnel to drop supplies by parachute was a limited success, because most of the aircrew they trained had never been in the air before, and it was unlikely that aircraft would be available the next time there was an emergency that required an air drop. What the African governments usually do is put out a call to the international aid community, and blame the foreigners if they don't show up in time.

AFRICOM (Africa Command), which is similar in organization to other American regional commands (Central, for the Middle East, and South, for Latin America, etc), is trying to change all that. AFRICOM, established two years ago, and coordinates all American military operations in Africa. Before that, those operations were coordinated between two commands (the one covering Europe and the one covering the Middle East, with some advice from the one handling Latin America ). The establishment of AFRICOM means more money for counter-terror operations in Africa, and more long range projects. Like how to deal with the corruption and lack of responsibility in many African governments.

But this is an organization that is spread around, and has no base in Africa itself. Office and support facilities for the AFRICOM, are near SOUTHCOM headquarters, outside Miami, Florida. AFRICOM headquarters are currently located outside Stuttgart, Germany, where it will remain until a home can be found in an African country. Many African nations are leery about getting involved. There is fear of terrorist attacks on any AFRICOM facilities in their territory, and some African nations, at least those run by dictators, don't want more Americans, and their democratic ideas, upsetting the status quo.

One thing most African nations do want from AFRICOM are military and counter-terrorism trainers. The problem with this is that, the people so trained are often then employed as enforcers for the local dictator. Even providing training for peacekeepers can backfire, for those peacekeeping skills can also be used to pacify your own people. But AFRICOM will do what it can, and that means moving small groups of people, and their equipment, around a large continent with few major, and lots of minor, airports. This is accomplished via a contractor (the Phoenix Air Group) fleet of light transports.

Africa is the poorest continent on the planet. African troops are also poorly trained, equipped and led. AFRICOM has a lot of work to do, and a lot of criticism if the troops it trains are later used to stage a coup, or support another dictatorship. It's a thankless task.

 


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