AFRICA: Libya Puts Spotlight on AFRICOM
Puting the Combat in Combatant Command
The allied intervention in the Libyan revolt/civil war has turned the spotlight on one the United States’ newest and least understood military organizations: U.S. Africa Command, known as AFRICOM.
AFRICOM has spent years of trying to allay the fears of African political leaders, pundits and peace advocates who suspect the command is either a secret strike force for American imperialism to grab the continent’s natural resources, or the 21st Century version of Gunboat Diplomacy. But we wonder if AFRICOM’s stated message of supporting peace and stability has been undermined at all by the command’s involvement in Joint Task Force Odyssey Dawn.
The United Nations-Security Council-authorized and Arab League-backed operation – ostensibly to implement a No Fly Zone over Libya and protect civilians from attacks by strongman Muammar Qaddafi’s military – has included multiple missile and aircraft strikes against Qaddafi’s air defense system and armored columns menacing rebel strongholds.
While that has sparked an outcry from peace activists, lawmakers and human rights advocates in the U.S. and Europe, we’re waiting to see how this plays with folks in Africa. Three African nations currently on the Security Council – South Africa, Nigeria and Gabon – all voted in favor of U.N. Resolution 1973, which in effect calls for the No Fly Zone. While no Security Council members voted against the resolution, Brazil, Russia, India, China and Germany abstained from voting.
Ugandan president, Yoweri Museveni, has condemned the U.N. military action as well as the anti-Qaddafi rebels. But opposition parties in his country call his position hypocritical in light of his own lengthy autocratic rule and long-time friendly relationship with Qaddafi, according to local papers via the AllAfrica.com website. Museveni has penned a lengthy piece on his relationship with Qaddafi in Foreign Policy.
The African Union – which opposes the military intervention – called a meeting today (March 25) in Addis Ababa, Ehiopia to try and broker a truce invited representatives from the Qaddafi government and the rebel faction, as well as the U.N. Security Council, the European Union and neighboring Arab countries. But the rebels say they won’t negotiate with Qaddafi’s regime
At least one prominent African political leader, Paul Kagame, the president of Rwanda – a country that is no stranger to bloodshed – has spoken out in favor of the U.N. military action. In an opinion piece, Kagame says when his country was wracked by ethnic strife in 1994 during which nearly one million people died, the international community was slow to respond – “failing to intervene to prevent a state killing its own people.”
“Given the overriding mandate of Operation Odyssey Dawn to protect Libyan civilians from state-sponsored attacks, Rwanda can only stand in support of it,” Kagame wrote.
Although the African Union was also slow to respond to the Libyan crisis, the Rwandan leader faulted the international community for not including the African group in the decision-making process even though the Arab League was consulted.
“African Union support for Operation Odyssey Dawn would have acted as a further deterrent to other African leaders who might be tempted to target their own people with violence,” Kagame concluded.
Meanwhile, NATO – which is taking over command of the Libyan intervention – said Canadian Lt. Gen. Charlie Bouchard will be running Odyssey Dawn. That should be a relief for AFRICOM and its new commander, Army Gen. Carter Ham, who in the early days of the air war over Libya was the public face of U.S. forces in the operation. AFRICOM’s area of responsibility includes every African country except Egypt, which is overseen by Central Command.
The newest of the six regional combatant commands, AFRICOM was created by the second President George Bush in 2007 to coordinate humanitarian relief operations and train local militaries – all as a stabilizing force on the continent. The military training is aimed at professionalizing local armed forces so they protect rather than oppress their citizens, and equipping them to handle transnational threats like al Qaeda or other terrorist groups.
But no African government, save Liberia, would allow AFRICOM’s headquarters within its borders. AFRICOM continues to be based at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany and has no permanent armed force in Africa or anywhere else for that matter. Half of its 1,200 personnel are civilians.
Entry filed under: Africa, BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China), Counter Insurgency, International Relief, National Security and Defense, Special Operations, Weaponry and Equipment. Tags: Africa, African Union, AFRICOM, Air Force, Army, Brazil, China, counter terrorism, Defense, Gabon, Germany, helicopter, India, Libya, military aviation, NATO, Navy, Nigeria, pirates, Rwanda, soft power, South Africa, Uganda.