Posts Tagged ‘Africom’
Last year, when the the Bush administration announced it was creating an African Command (Africom) military structure for the continent I thought it sounded like a great idea. Though there are fears for American imperialism and exploitation, early results seem to showcase the opposite. Eric Schmitt of the NY Times wrote a great piece of a partnership between the US State and Defense Departments to train counterterrorism training and assistance with Algeria, Chad, Mauritania, Mali, Morocco, Niger Nigeria, Senegal, Tunisia, and now even Libya. Schmitt discusses the tenuous democracy of Mali and how Al Qaeda militants from Algeria were starting to infiltrate the large Sunni nation, long known for its tolerant brand of Islam. US Green Berets are currently training Mali military personnel, along with neighboring Senegal’s, in tactics to counter this threat.
This partnership has many other nonmilitary aspects as well. There is aid for teacher instruction, emphasizing non-radical education, and job training which targets young Muslim men who may be tempted to join extremist groups.
Africom is still an incipient organization as its headquarters has not even found a home yet on the continent (it currently is Stuttgart, Germany). Here is a description of its creation and mission from its official website:
On February 6, 2007, President Bush and Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced the creation of U.S. Africa Command. The decision was the culmination of a 10-year thought process within the Department of Defense (DoD) acknowledging the emerging strategic importance of Africa, and recognizing that peace and stability on the continent impacts not only Africans, but the interests of the U.S. and international community as well. Yet, the department’s regional command structure did not account for Africa in a comprehensive way, with three different U.S. military headquarters maintaining relationships with African countries. The creation of U.S. Africa Command enables DoD to better focus its resources to support and enhance existing U.S. initiatives that help African nations, the African Union, and the regional economic communities succeed. It also provides African nations and regional organizations an integrated DoD coordination point to help address security and related needs.
United States Africa Command, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy.
We all know the problems of Africa cannot be solved by mere military methods alone, as when the guns go quiet there is still a lack of opportunity for a majority of the continent’s citizens. Another way the US and world can help the people and nations of Africa is the support of free trade. Herman Cohen argues that a free trade agreement between the East African nations embroiled in war, mainly Congo and Rwanda, could bring about shared growth that would tie the region’s governments, tribes, and people together. The US can help by mediating such a compromise. In 2000, the US Congress passed the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), an investment policy that would open up American markets to Sub-Saharan African goods, but progress has been slow, as US trade with Africa is only about 1-2%.
The United States can help bring stability and prosperity to Africa in many ways, with trade and security being at the top of the list. The US is not planning any major military movements inside of Africa, so there need be no fear over a loss of sovereignty. But both sides have much to lose if extremist and terrorist elements gain a foothold in any region or locality. A small US military footprint, featuring special forces eliminating terrorist threats and units like the Green Berets training nascent African armies how to control their territories and borders, can have a large impact on regional stability. Both sides also have much to lose if trade links between the two falter or fail to grow, especially the citizens of Africa. President-elect Obama has many strategic challenges in front of him, and Africa is no doubt probably low on that list, but one can hope that a concerted effort by his administration, combined with a few personal touches by this President of African descent himself, could go along way in fostering this growing relationship.
(Picture #1: New York Times, Picture #2: Africom website)