Pentagon to Create US Africa Command (AFRICOM)

The United States will soon have a unique major command focused on Africa. The Boston Globe‘s Bryan Bender reports:

President Bush is expected to create a new military command for Africa, for the first time establishing an independent operations headquarters that will focus on anti terrorist operations and humanitarian aid, according to administration officials. The US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, would oversee strategic developments and military operations across the entire continent, where a combination of problems — natural disasters, civil wars, chronic disease, and the growing presence of Islamic radicals — has destabilized some countries and created an increasing threat to global security, White House and Defense Department aides said.

The Pentagon proposal, which the White House is expected to approve in coming days, is overdue, according to Africa specialists. They cite two examples: the failed state of Somalia, which has become a haven for Islamic militants allied with Al Qaeda terrorists, and the crisis in Sudan, where United Nations figures estimate that more than 400,000 people have died from ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region.

Creating a distinct Africa command “increases the potential that greater attention will be given to issues like Darfur,” said Susan Rice, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “This is a timely move,” added Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and vice chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees Africa policy. “Africa’s growing strategic importance is clear.”

Currently, the Pentagon has five worldwide command posts; Africa has been the shared responsibility of the Europe, Middle East, and Asian commands, but only as a secondary task. Each post’s primary mission is in another geographic area, and those responsibilities garner far more day-to-day attention and resources.

The Pentagon, which crafted the proposal with the aid of the State Department and other government agencies, envisions the new command to be unique among its global combat headquarters. Because African nations do not pose a direct military threat to the United States, Defense officials said, the AFRICOM operation would focus far less on preparing troops for major combat in the area. Instead, it would stress military training programs to help local governments secure their borders and take steps to guard against crises such as Darfur as well as contain outbreaks of deadly diseases such as AIDS and malaria .

Unlike in other traditional command posts, the four-star general who would be in charge of AFRICOM would probably have a civilian counterpart from the State Department to coordinate nonmilitary functions of the US government. The expectation is that diplomacy and economic and political aid will often prove more critical to achieving US goals in Africa than relying on military solutions.

While there’s no obvious reason why AFRICOM would make it more likely we would intervene in Darfur–that’s a political decision, not an operational one–this is a groundbreaking move. Many analysts, including my grad school colleague Wayne Maynard (a retired Special Forces officer) have long called for pairing up State and DOD in such a manner.

Making it work, however, will be exceedingly difficult. As intense as interservice rivalry within the Defense Department has been, it pales in comparison with the disdain and distrust with which State and DOD view each other. It will take the equivalent of Goldwater-Nichols (the 1986 act of Congress that forced a grudging DOD to take jointness seriously) to affect the necessary cultural change to make this work. As the postwar mess in Iraq has made clear, however, it is absolutely essential that we do so.

AFRICOM will be much more effective if it becomes a SOUTHCOM-style career post* rather than a hardship tour a’la South Korea. It is much easier to work in places with cultures so distinct from our own if we establish long-term institutional and personal relationships and the intimate trust and cultural understandings they bring. That can’t be done by rotating people in for a year or two and not bringing them back for years or forever.


*See Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts, especially Chapter 2, for a more detailed discussion.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Triumph says:

    The United States will soon have a unique major command focused on Africa.

    Bush must be thinking:

    “Why in the world are we developing a major command for ONE COUNTRY?

    Maybe that’s something they are discussing at the next Darfur Round meeting.”

  2. Rsi says:

    and humanitarian aid?

    Congress needs to control this funding.

    USAID/CIA covert funds to NGOs – other military humanitarian financing. This works nicely with CIA moving to DOD/DIA and the need for Congress to control that funding at DOD/DIA also.

  3. DC Loser says:

    I see my friend as back talking about CIA moving to DIA again, under another name. Can you tell me the difference between NIP and MIP, since you want to talk CIA vs. DIA?

  4. lisa says:

    AFRICOM sets very much on the blackside of the house rightnow, thus it is very hard to judge the true intent of the ACOM. FYI: There are no longer Major Commnands, the Army is now divided by Army Commands (ACOM), Army Service Component Commands (ASCC), and the Direct Reporting Units (DRU).

  5. James Joyner says:


    Thanks. Technically, it’s a Unified Combatant Command, since it’s (presumably) Joint.

  6. kip says:

    DC, well,

    I know that DIA is lobbying for the same operations officer law enforcement in the US as the CIA has and this is seen as a compromise for the movement of CIA to DoD, which runs DIA and NSA, not that those are civilians moving from CIA, traditionally controlled by Congress, to the military, traditionally controlled by the President and that is screwing up the funding(which is already screwed up because no one can figure out if the USAID covert CIA money sent to NGOs was done by the President through his appointee or Congress and the Inelligence Committee and sent to friends), which Congress always wants to control, but that doesn’t mean that it’s not okay for a civilian to get a job with DIA or DoD.

    Ass far as the plastic surgery; they’re all the same, except the first letters, which are one apart, not that they are always by each other and the same letters, but, maybe it has more to do with classified intelligence work which we shouldn’t know about because it’s not open source.

    As far as DIA vs. CIA there should really be no problem here among employees. As we all know, they are all Americans and will get along beautifully, serving us, Americans, the President, Congress, and, indeed all of mankind; making a future that all humans, even the ‘evil doers’ from other planets, all can see our reasons for existing in this glorious universe and our planet that is a blessing among all things in existence.

    DC. I really don’t think your a loser and neither should you. Going around putting a label like that on yourself really does indicate a problem with your self actualization. Rather than focusing on the negative, maybe one should try areas that one might find blessings because most losers do, should, I meant just have a better life for us, I mean yourself and us, I mean not in person or close or anything and it’s not like your in DC and alot of people know how far away that is, not that’s it’s important for people to keep a distance, it’s that, close interaction just is not good for us, I mean you, because you need to use to really actualize and it’s not like you were not a loser until one got near at, like Christmas or something, but, it’s not important except for the evil doers, so, I’ll just go away and your smart and nice and everything………………

  7. Wayne says:

    ASCC is broken down into major combatant commands.

    There are joint commands up and down the command structure but that doesn’t take away that other commands coexist. CENTCOM and CFLCC which drop the J coexist. I think it is about time we have an AFRICOM. 3rd SF group has been assign to Africa for quite a while now. Most people don’t realize that many of the terrorist groups are base in Africa. The chaos there is a prime breeding ground for terrorist recruitment. Since there is little government control in vast areas there, terrorist groups can basically roam free. If we don’t take care of some of the problems there with LIC then it will come back and haunt us later.

  8. Wayne says:

    My Bad,
    I meant Third Army, CENTCOM and CFLCC all coexisting together.

  9. Jem says:

    It can often be amusing to watch folks who have heard the terms but don’t know what they mean have these sorts of discussions. A few notes:

    1) CIA and DIA are very different organizations run in very different ways with very different budget authorities (different sections of US Code). Combining them (I wouldn’t hold my breath) would be a massive undertaking. This is what DC Loser was alluding to…RSI/Kip seem to have missed it, and one should probably factor that into their analysis.

    2) CFLCC is a doctrinal term (an abbreviation for Combined Force Land Component Commander) that applies to any Combined Force, if that is how the command and control arrangements are set–doctrine allows for other arrangement, if they are deemed more appropriate (for example, you might have Army Forces, Naval Forces, Marine Forces, Air Forces, and Coalition Forces components instead). In short, the “C” in CFLCC has nothing to do with CENTCOM.

    3) Interestingly, the concept of an Africa Command sometimes is used in training or exercises…since there has been no such command up to this point, it allowed the training/exercise managers to avoid the problem of having participants whine, “but that’s not how EUCOM/PACOM/CENTCOM does that”. I guess there will be some creative writing done to create a different fictional command for such purposes…

  10. Wayne says:


    You may want to do some research before you start being condescending to others.

    Yes CFLCC is a generic military term but it is also specific command under CENTCOM. So if you would to say you were with CFLCC, it would be understood what unit you belong to. It actually says it on assignment orders.

    I think they should have used a different name but that is the way it goes.

  11. Wayne says:

    I’m having a bad day and must correct myself again. CFLCC is not technically under CENTCOM command although the vast majority of the units in CFLLCC are under operational of control of CENTCOM. US don’t have any control of some coalition units but is central in getting their cooperation. The command structure was even confusing to many of the generals but I’m sure there are people who know everything out there.