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.