AFRICOM proceeds apace

By Colin Crowley

Recently, the United States military announced a new addition to its cyber library: www.eucom.mil/africom, the web address of the developing military command for Africa, dubbed AFRICOM.  Among its other attributes, the website provides answers to 19 questions about the planned U.S. presence in Africa that are frequently asked by a curious public, each answer intended to assure readers that this recent move by Uncle Sam is both noble and crucial.  With this website’s launch reminding the public that AFRICOM is in the pipelines, it is appropriate to review the upcoming African Command, its importantance to our victory against terrorism, and how its initiation is progressing.

President Bush announced the creation of AFRICOM in February of 2007.  In its absence, military responsibilities for Africa remain split between CENTCOM, EUCOM, and PACOM. The new AFRICOM – slated to initiate in October, 2007 under EUCOM tutelage and in October, 2008 as a self-standing entity – would geographically include all of Africa, except for Egypt, and would incorporate a "combatant command plus" strategy, whereby soft-power security means would dominate over hard-power methods. Specifically, AFRICOM would consist of both civilian and military personnel working together to provide targeted military assistance to African troops, train African militaries in security/stability operations and human rights norms, and provide timely humanitarian and stability assistance during political, military, social, and ecological crises.

Without a doubt, AFRICOM is an essential reform in our global military command structure. For too long, Africa has been at the fringes of US security policy, barely in our national security purview. However, the 2006 National Security Strategy made that Africa a "high priority" for the U.S.  Indeed, the new African Command is necessary for several reasons.

First, we are increasingly dependent on Africa for our energy needs (especially oil). Currently, Africa is our largest supplier of crude, outstripping even the Middle East. Indeed, Nigeria is our fifth largest oil resource. Instability in the Niger Delta alone last year reduced Nigerian supply by 25%. Helping secure Africa from turmoil would go a long way toward opening up a non-terrorist-funding oil supply chain on our way to a more ecologically-savvy future.

Second, the African coast is a volatile region of smuggling largely un-policed by African governments that are too corrupt and/or chaotic to manage their own maritime security without outside assistance. AFRICOM and its military training would be able to help secure the African continent’s borders from attack and infiltration by terrorists who use the ocean as a yellow-brick road to jihad. Furthermore, policing the African coast helps protect those offshore oil production facilities at risk from interference by those selfsame sea-faring Sunni and Shia.

Third, the failed states in Africa and the oxymoronic governments in many African nations create serious politico-military vacuums that terrorists groups can fill and exploit for nefarious ends. Indeed, Islamofascist terrorism has been on the rise in Africa, with terrorist bombings cursing Dar es Salaam (1998), Nairobi (1998), Mombasa (2002), and Algiers (2007). Furthermore, economic rape, such as the ‘conflict diamond’ tragedy of Liberia and Sierre Leone, provide funding for terrorist groups (Al Qaeda) that allow such to initiate and maintain anti-American operations.

Fourth, African nations are essential contributors both to intra-African military operations that help stabilize the African continent and also to many key UN multilateral peacekeeping missions. In fact, Ghana, Ethiopia, Nigeria, and South Africa rank among the top 10 nations in their contributions of troops to such peacekeeping operations over the past decade or so. By training and aiding African troops, thus making a military career more attractive for African youths, we will be funding a military waterfall that will support the international community and reduce the need for US troops to be involved in future peacekeeping operations in Africa or elsewhere. Furthermore, US medical assistance will help erode the future dampening of African military abilities that will inevitably result from the abnormally and dangerously high HIV rate (40-to-60%) among the majority of African soldiers.

With this in mind, there should be no doubt that the creation of AFRICOM and its active funding is an essential component of U.S. national security policy in the Terrorist Age. Fortunately, the process of birthing AFRICOM has been moving along with relative success over the past few months. Nevertheless, as is to be expected, problems and complications remain.

To begin with, there is the issue of how much AFRICOM will cost to erect and to maintain. Unfortunately, not much information has been revealed on the command’s projected FY 2008 budget. Transition team head Navy Rear Admiral Robert Moeller sets the FY 2007 amount at $50 million. However, considering the transportation and reorganization factors involved, experts say that the initial costs for setting up AFRICOM will bump up the FY 2008 budget considerably. Furthermore, plans to transport economic assistance programs now being used in Iraq and Afghanistan to Africa via AFRICOM soft power means may likely run high (perhaps to the $1 billion mark). To offset ballooning budgets, DOD claims that much of the cost for AFRICOM will be redirected from other combatant commands. However, whether this promise is put-on scrooginess for Capitol Hill consumption has yet to be revealed.

Aside from budgeting, there is also the issue of the personnel composition and structure of AFRICOM. As a "combatant command plus," one that mixes soft and hard power and thus military and civilian personnel, AFRICOM will be a hybrid giant staffed by an interagency personnel kaleidoscope. At the top will stand the traditional 4-star general or admiral. Below him, there will be two deputy commanders – one military, one civilian. The first civilian deputy commander will be from DOS. The following deputies will come and go from other civilian agencies on a rotational basis. In its entirety, the AFRICOM staff is expected to be about 400-to-700. This is less than the typical 400-to-1000 associated with other combatant commands. According to DOD, one-third of the AFRICOM staff will be civilian in nature.   However, considering the smaller size of civilian bureaucracy, DOS and other government agencies claim that they do not have enough personnel to fulfill this request. Furthermore, DOD has not specified exactly which positions will be filled by civilian personnel or how much power such personnel will have vis-à-vis their military counterparts – although the civilian deputy commander will not be in the military chain of command.

Lastly, controversy and concern still exist over the future location of AFRICOM headquarters – Europe or Africa?  Advocates of the former argue that a continental presence will drag US troops into African conflicts via the mission creep possibilities birthed by the convenience of proximity. Advocates of the latter argue that an on-ground presence will demonstrate American commitment to Africa, enable American influence to flow with greater velocity, and assist AFRICOM in playing the decisive role its many defenders advocate. Increasingly, indeed, after the one-year period (October, 2007 to October, 2008) during which the African Command will remain based in Stuttgart, Germany under the temporary gaze of EUCOM, it seems likely that AFRICOM headquarters will be placed in an African location. Specifically, the nations of Botswana and Morocco seem to be two likely candidates for such basing due to their stated willingness to accept the responsibility and to the happy fact that their stable politico-economic systems significantly lessen the likelihood that their governments will be overthrown next Thursday. Added to this, DOD further plans to install several sub-headquarters throughout Africa for more localized components of AFRICOM that will further increase the African geographical presence of US forces and thus our ability for rapid response in times of crisis.

That being said, the necessary creation of AFRICOM is moving along at a pace generally commendable in its constancy. However, above all, it is key that the new command receive generous funding for its operations. Budget-redirecting in Washington has become the norm since Iraq and Afghanistan and pre-election year politics have already raised cries for frugality from political circles. Furthermore, it is also key that AFRICOM receive its promised political backing. An orphaned command will not be able to stand up against the daddy commands arrayed against it with decades of history and layers of bureaucracy on their side. Whatever happens, the economic and political commitment to AFRICOM must remain as enduring as Gibraltar in its power and constancy so that a crucial reform for U.S. military structure and security is not sacrificed in this most pressing time of need.

Colin Crowley is an intern at the Center for Security Policy, and a Master’s candidate in Georgetown University’s Security Studies Program.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *