WASHINGTON, Aug. 5, 2014 —
African solutions to African problems is the driving force behind security improvements on the continent, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. military can’t lend a hand, a senior Defense Department official told DoD News in a recent interview.
“The work being done by Africans themselves has been encouraging,” said Amanda J. Dory, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs.
Dory spoke in in advance of this week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit here. A portion of the summit will address issues of peace and security, including a discussion of long-term solutions to regional conflicts, peacekeeping challenges and combating transnational threats.
She pointed to the African Union’s commitment to field a rapid reaction force and the organization’s efforts in collective security in Somalia as examples of the progress being made on the continent.
The African Union has long wanted a rapid reaction force to respond to developing, Dory said. The African Union had wanted to have a standing force up and running in 2010, but she said the plan fell through.
But in May, African leaders agreed to form the African Capacity for Immediate Response to Crises, or ACIRC, with the goal of having the capability up and running by the end of September. South Africa, Ethiopia and Uganda have pledged troops to the effort.
“This came about, in part, because of their dissatisfaction of their inability to respond immediately in Mali,” Dory said, referring to the coup and violence that wracked the West African nation two years ago.
France stepped into the breach, but this rubbed many African leaders the wrong way, given that France is Mali’s former colonial power and that of other nations in the region. Bringing the concept to fruition required a lot of leadership at the African Union level and from leaders in individual countries, Dory said.
“Maybe this time next year, we’ll be talking about the African Union having deployed the ACIRC to handle some crisis as it begins to manifest, even as the international community debates how to do it,” she said.
The African Union Mission in Somalia currently has troops drawn from Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Ethiopia. The troops have been instrumental in improving security in the country, to the extent that governance has returned and the influence and depredations of the al-Shabaab terror group have been lessened.
While these two examples are encouraging, Dory said, other issues on the continent are discouraging and even alarming.
Army Gen. Martin E. Dempsey, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, talks about “the arc of instability” that runs from Central Asia through the Middle East and into North Africa. The penetration of these extremist groups into the Mahgreb -- essentially the area from Libya to the Atlantic -- and the Sahel -- roughly the transitional area between the Sahara Desert the grasslands to the south -- has increased. Boko Haram probably is the best-known terror group operating in that region.
“We are seeing growing and concerning signs of additional extremist penetration in countries of the Mahgreb and Sahel,” Dory said. These areas are among the poorest in the world, and drought and growing desertification make life in these regions tough, she noted.
Governments do not have full control of the regions, and these security vacuums draw terror groups like moths to light. “The inability of the political institutions in many of these countries to enable social and political tensions to be worked out and resolved productively gives a foothold at times for external extremists to inflame existing local grievances in a way that’s producing instability,” Dory said.
These extremist groups are forging ties back to the Middle East and al-Qaida. Many of the groups in Africa that are now considered al-Qaida affiliates existed previously, but have found convenience, notoriety and funding from identifying with the terror group. The disturbing trend is the growing linkages among the core and the affiliates and among the affiliates themselves, Dory said.
While Africa must find African solutions, the United States offers a range of expertise and experience to help build capacity, she said.
“Our strategic approach is compelling as well -- the whole foundational concept of building partner capacity is really a win-win,” she added.
DoD officials listen to African counterparts’ views of the security challenges, Dory said, giving them the foundation to explore how to help in planning, training, education, equipment and development of approaches.
“We don’t insist on a particular approach -- we don’t offer help where it’s not wanted,” she said. “The partnership framework suits us in very good stead.”
Leaders in Africa view DoD and U.S. Africa Command quite positively, Dory said, and see involvement with the United States as a true partnership.
One lesson from Somalia is that it takes time to see progress in some of these conflict-prone areas, Dory noted. Somalia is doing better, she said, but it has been “a slow march back to statehood and recognition by the international community.”
“Other places I see the same progress -- Liberia, Sierra Leone -- countries where, if you go back a decade and a half, there was substantial violence,” she said. “Over time, you see the slow return to normalcy, governance and the slow regeneration of economic activity.”
This doesn’t happen in a fiscal year, or even in a future years development plan, Dory said.
“It can take decades in some of these areas where you have such a substantial challenge,” she added. “Governance, development and security all have to be addressed simultaneously.”
(Follow Jim Garamone on Twitter: @garamoneDoDNews)