AFRICA: Will Pentagon Belt Tightening Squeeze Out AFRICOM?

September 5, 2013 at 12:57 pm 2 comments

Considering COCOM Consolidation

AFRICOM's emblem

AFRICOM’s emblem

At the Aspen Security Forum in mid-July, Army Gen. Carter Ham, the recently retired head of U.S. Africa Command said he thought most countries in Africa had a more positive view of the regional command now than when it was created in 2007.

Since then, the military and civilian workers of AFRICOM “have done so much to diminish the fears and anxieties of many African countries,” Ham told your 4GWAR editor during a question & answer session at the four-day conference in Colorado’s Rocky Mountains. “We don’t go anywhere without the consent of the host nation government” and the consent of the U.S. ambassador to that nation, he added.

When then-President George W. Bush created the U.S. military’s sixth geographic combatant command there was a pretty large outcry in Africa that this was just another imperialistic move by a Western power seeking to grab all the oil, gold or other natural resources it could. Others saw it as an attempt to counter growing Chinese influence in the region.

As an example of the hostility to the concept of U.S. troops in Africa, only one country – Liberia – offered to host AFRICOM’s headquarters, which still remains in Stuttgart, Germany. Many other African nations opposed having a U.S. military presence anywhere on the continent.

Gen. Carter F. Ham (ret.)  (AFRICOM photo via Wikipedia)

Gen. Carter F. Ham (ret.)
(AFRICOM photo via Wikipedia)

But Ham, who was AFRICOM’s second commander, said “many nations – not all – have found it to be in their best interests to have a military-to-military relationship with the U.S. through Africa Command.”

So we were a little surprised when reports began surfacing that AFRICOM might be folded into European Command or one of the other six regional combatant commands as a money-saving venture driven by the budget constraints of sequestration.

Defense News, a Gannett publication, reported August 12 that the Pentagon was considering “a major overhaul” of the commands that could include “dissolving Africa Command” and splitting its responsibilities between European Command, which is also headquartered in Stuttgart, and Central Command, based at Homestead Air Force Base in Florida. AFRICOM is responsible for U.S. security, humanitarian and diplomatic operations in all of Africa’s 54 countries, except Egypt, which is overseen by Central Command.

As it says on its website, AFRICOM has four main roles in Africa: to deter and defeat transnational threats; prevent future conflicts; support humanitarian and disaster relief and protect U.S. security interests. AFRICOM has a very small permanent presence in Africa – a former Foreign Legion base in Djibouti where about 2,000 personnel are based and an airbase in Niger with a little over 100 personnel to support surveillance drones flying over northwest Africa where an affiliate of the al Qaeda terrorist network has been active. The bulk of AFRICOM’s small personnel force remains in Europe.

All of the services conduct training exercises with African militaries like Africa Lion and Flintlock. Other missions offer naval and police training as well as medical clinics, emergency response training and small construction projects.

U.S. and African troops at opening ceremonies for Flintlock 09 exercise in Bamako, Mali in 2008. (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Victoria Meyer)

U.S. and African troops at opening ceremonies for Flintlock 09 exercise in Bamako, Mali.  (U.S. Air Force photo by Tech. Sgt. Victoria Meyer)

“We didn’t really see ourselves as a fighting command,” Ham said at the Aspen event … until Libya happened.

AFRICOM found itself leading air and intelligence operations during the early days of the United Nations-sanctioned intervention in Libya’s revolt-turned civil war. AFRICOM also supplied military transport and air refueling assistance to French and African forces intervening earlier this year in the Islamist revolt in Mali. Later, AFRICOM reached an agreement with Niger to base unarmed surveillance drones there. AFRICOM has also played a role in battling pirates off the east and west coasts of Africa. And U.S. special operations forces conducted a hostage rescue mission in Somalia and provided assistance to African militaries hunting for renegade warlord Joseph Kony and his Lord’s Resistance Army.

That increasingly military role may have undercut AFRICOM’s original, largely non-miltary role in the eyes of some Africans, according to the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

But summing in up his answer in Aspen to 4GWAR’s query about whether Africa was now more accepting of AFRICOM, Ham said: “If the United States were to say ‘We’re interested in relocating the headquarters to the African continent. Would you be interested in hosting [it]?’ I think there are a number of nations that would say ‘Yes.’”

AFRICOM civil affairs personnel conduct numerous health clinics with local medicos like this one in Chebelley, Djibouti (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Christopher Ruano)

AFRICOM civil affairs personnel conduct numerous health clinics with local medicos like this one in Chebelley, Djibouti (U.S. Air Force photo by Staff Sergeant Christopher Ruano)

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Entry filed under: Africa, Counter Insurgency, Counter Terrorism, Disaster Relief, International Relief, National Security and Defense, News Developments, Unconventional Warfare. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , .

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. NG36B  |  September 8, 2013 at 11:47 am

    So while China is happy to continue expanding it’s involvement in Africa, we’re looking at once again making them the sideshow to European Command. We are missing an opportunity to build on American goodwill in places like Morocco, Libya, Nigeria, Ethiopia, and Nigeria and make our involvement a positive one. I’d rather we spend less money in Pakistan and more in Africa to build up partnerships that will help us later down the road.

    Reply
    • 2. John M. Doyle  |  September 8, 2013 at 11:00 pm

      Unfortunately, short term money woes may be leading to short-sighted strategic planning. Although nothing is carved in stone yet.
      We’ll be watching to see what African nations have to say. Like the countries around the South China Sea that want the U.S. military back in Asia to counter China; Boko Haram; al Shabaab and AQIM may change some leaders’ attitudes about a U.S. presence in Africa.

      Reply

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