AFRICOM: What Is It and What Will It do?
On 6 February 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 11 September 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.
As Theresa Whelan put it in her congressional testimony,
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
Flintlock 2005 and 2007
Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP)
East Africa Counter-Terrorism Initiative (EACTI)
Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program (ACOTA)
International Military Education and Training Program (IMET)
Foreign Military Sales Program (FMS)
African Coastal and Border Security Program (ACBS Program)
Excess Defense Articles Program (EDA)
Anti-Terrorism Assistance (ATA)
The largest ATA program in Africa is targeted at Kenya, where it helped created the Kenyan Antiterrorism Police Unit (KAPU) in 2004 to conduct anti-terrorism operations, the Joint Terrorism Task Force in 2004 to coordinate anti-terrorism activities (although the unit was disbanded by the Kenyan government in 2005, and is now training and equipping members of a multi-agency, coast guard-type unit to patrol Kenya’s coastal waters. Between 2003 and 2005 (the most recent years for which this information is available), ATA provided training both in Kenya and in the United States to 454 Kenyan police, internal security, and military officers in courses on “Preventing, Interdicting, and Investigating Acts of Terrorism,” “Crisis Response,” “Post-Blast Investigation,” “Rural Border Operation,” and “Terrorist Crime Scene Investigation.” The creation of the KAPU was financed with $10 million in from the FY 2003 Peacekeeping Operations Appropriation for Kenya, along with $622,000 from ATA; the ATA spent $21 million on training for Kenya in FY 2004 $3.5 in FY 2005, and another $3.2 in FY 2006. The administration requested $2.9 for FY 2007 and an additional $5.5 in FY 2008.
The second largest ATA program in Africa at present is one used to help fund the Trans-Saharan Counter-Terrorism Initiative (TSCTI). For FY 2007, the administration requested $7.2 million in ATA funding for the TSCTI and for FY 2008 requested another $6 million in ATA funding for FY 2008 for Africa Regional activities, most of which may be used to fund the TSCTI.
ATA programs are also being used to train and equip police, internal security, and military forces in a number of other African countries, including Tanzania ($2.1 million in FY 2006), Mauritius ($903,000 in FY 2006), Niger ($905,000 in FY 2006), Chad ($625,000 in FY 2006), Senegal ($800,000 in FY 2006), Mali ($564,000 in FY 2006), Liberia ($220,000 in FY 2006), Ethiopia ($170,000 in FY 2006). Training courses provided to these countries includes topics like “Investigation of Terrorist Organizations,” “Rural Border Operations,” “Antiterrorism Instructor Training,” Terrorist Crime Scene Investigation,” and “Explosive Incident Countermeasures.” In Djibouti, this training helped to create the country’s National Crisis Management Unit, within the Ministry of the Interior, to respond to major national emergencies.
ATA utilizes training facilities at three International Law Enforcement Academy (ILEA) centers, one located in Botswana. In 2003, students from Botswana, Ethiopia, and Tanzania attended a course on “Terrorist Investigations” at the Botswana ILEA center. In 2004, students from Djibouti, Malawi, Uganda, and Zambia took the same course there. In 2005, students from Botswana, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Tanzania attended a course on “Combating Domestic and Transnational Terrorism at the Botswana ILEA center and students from Angola, Mozambique, Uganda, and Zambia took a course on the “Police Executive Role in Combating Terrorism.”
Section 1206 Fund
Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA)
Joint Task Force Aztec Silence (JTFAS)
Naval Operations in the Gulf of Guinea
The U.S. Navy has been steadily increasing the level and pace of its operations in African waters in recent years, including the deployment of two aircraft carrier battle groups off the coast of West Africa as part of the “Summer Pulse” exercise in June 2004, when identical battle groups were sent to every ocean around the globe to demonstrate that the United States was still capable of bringing its military power to bear simultaneously in every part of the world despite its commitment to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan
More recently, American naval forces led an unprecedented voyage by a NATO fleet that circumnavigated the African continent from August to September 2007. Under the command of its flagship, the guided missile cruiser U.S.S. Normandy, the ships of Standing NATO Maritime Group One—composed of warships from Denmark, Portugal, the Netherlands, Canada, Germany, and the United States—conducted what were described as “presence operations” in the Gulf of Guinea, then proceeded to South Africa, where they participated in the Amazolo exercises being held by the South African Navy, and then sailed to the waters off the coast of Somalia to conduct more “presence operations” in a region which has experienced an upsurge in piracy. Later that same month, the guided missile destroyer U.S.S. Forrest Sherman arrived off South Africa to engage in a separate joint training exercise with the South African Navy frigate S.A.S. Amatola.
And in another significant expansion of U.S. Navy operations in Africa, the U.S.S. Fort McHenry amphibious assault ship began a six-month deployment to the Gulf of Guinea in November 2007. The ship carries 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 is 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
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.
About the Author
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. [An earlier version of this article appeared in the Review of African Political Economy, Vol. 34, No. 114, (December 2007), pp. 737-744.]