U.S. Africa Command Brings New Concerns

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By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 28, 2007

The creation of the Defense Department Africa Command, with responsibilities to promote security and government stability in the region, has heightened concerns among African countries and in the U.S. government over the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, according to a newly released study by the Congressional Research Service.

The Africa Command (AFRICOM) was announced in February by the Bush administration and is scheduled to begin operations in October with temporary headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. AFRICOM would have traditional responsibilities of a combat command "to facilitate or lead [U.S.] military operations" on the continent, but would also include "a broader 'soft power' mandate aimed at preemptively reducing conflict and would incorporate a larger civilian component to address those challenges," according to the CRS study.

AFRICOM raises oversight issues for congressional committees, according to the report. "How will the administration ensure that U.S. military efforts in Africa do not overshadow or contradict U.S. diplomatic and development objectives?" the report asks. Similar concerns are being raised between Defense and State Department officials over the Pentagon's plans to take economic assistance programs begun in Iraq and Afghanistan and make them permanent and worldwide, with more than $1 billion allocated to them annually.

At a briefing last month after a trip to six African countries, Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters: "We discussed different mission areas . . . emphasizing the humanitarian, the building partnership capability, [and] civil affairs aspects." He said he discussed working "with the host nations to improve their capacity to exercise sovereignty over any ungoverned spaces" where terrorists could establish training bases.

One unresolved issue is where to put AFRICOM headquarters and its expected complement of 400 to 1,000 Americans. "Some initial reaction to locating the Africa Command on the continent has been negative," the CRS report said. Fear that it could represent a first step toward more U.S. troops in Africa led Henry to assure African leaders that the "principal mission will be in the area of security cooperation and building partnership capability. It will not be in warfighting."

AFRICOM has also raised concerns within the U.S. government. Whereas the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development officials recognize that the Pentagon can obtain congressional funding that they cannot, "there is also concern that the military may overestimate its capabilities as well as its diplomatic role in Africa, or pursue activities that are not a core part of its mandate," CRS notes.

To meet that concern, a State Department civilian official is to be one of the two deputy commanders of AFRICOM, though that official would not be in the chain of command on military operations, according to the CRS report. In addition, more than one-third of AFRICOM headquarters personnel would be from outside the Pentagon. Defense officials told CRS that "the new command will seek greater interagency coordination with the State Department, USAID and other government agencies," according to the report.

Nicole Lee, the executive director of TransAfrica Forum, a think tank focusing on U.S. policy toward Africa, said a greater U.S. military presence in Africa is "neither wise nor productive." Instead, the administration should focus on "development assistance and respect for sovereignty," she said in a statement released when the new command was announced.

AFRICOM notwithstanding, the Pentagon already has military, economic, humanitarian, counterterrorism and information programs underway in dozens of African countries.

The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, set up in October 2002, maintains a semi-permanent presence of 1,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, from which it carries out counterterrorism and humanitarian operations. U.S. military advisers from there currently aid the African Union mission in Sudan.

The Pentagon is carrying out information operations with military information support teams deployed to U.S. embassies on the continent. One such operation includes a Web site ( http://www.magharebia.com) that provides news and comment directed at North Africa in Arabic, French and English.

The Defense Department has also agreed on access to air bases and ports in Africa and "bare-bones" facilities maintained by local security forces in Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia, according to the CRS report.

Under "Operation Enduring Freedom: Trans Sahara/Trans Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative," the Pentagon has provided $500 million to increase border security and counterterrorism capacity to Mali, Chad, Niger and Mauritania. The Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program has provided small arms and training for peacekeeping operations to Benin, Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.


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