U.S. Servicemembers 'Waging Peace' on Horn of Africa
By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service
CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti, Jan. 3, 2006 Servicemembers on an important front in the global war on terror are fighting hard, but not with weapons.
"We're waging peace as hard as we can," the commander of Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa told American Forces Press Service Jan. 2 here.
Marine Maj. Gen. Timothy Ghormley said the command has not had to fire a shot in anger. "The French had to kill a hyena once," he said.
He said Marines, airmen, sailors and soldiers in the command are strengthening and stabilizing the nations of the region.
"We are setting the conditions for victory," the general said. "We're avoiding another Iraq or Afghanistan."
The joint task force has its headquarters here, but it operates in Yemen, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Kenya and Uganda. Somalia is in the command's area, but the command does not operate there. The area is huge, roughly a third of the size of the continental United States, with a total population of 167 million people.
Ghormley said he understands al Qaeda is active in Somalia, and he imagines the terror organization would like to export its philosophy to the Ogaden area - an area of Eastern Ethiopia, Djibouti and parts of Kenya - and down the Swahili coast toward Kenya. The U.S. effort in the region stops al Qaeda from establishing a presence.
"If we weren't there, they would be," the general said. "I can't imagine what's going on (in Somalia by al Qaeda), but I can't imagine it is good."
The Ogaden figures prominently in the command's strategy. The area is desolate and largely ungoverned. It's very poor, and the threat in the region is such that the U.S. Agency for International Development does not go in there. "We go into the ungoverned spaces," Ghormley said. "We go where there is a threat."
Every troop who leaves this camp is armed. But the rules of engagement are strict: self-defense only. Once the servicemembers are in the door, so to speak, USAID can follow.
"We have a very good working relationship with USAID," Ghormley said. "We provide the impact, they provide the sustainability. We build a school; they provide the teachers and the books."
The command is trying to change the residents' impressions, and convince them that the United States is not at war with Islam. "We are at war with those who would use a terrorist ideology to attack our way of life," the general explained.
Ghormley said combat is not the task force's mission. "I have no direct-action mission. I have no kinetic mission. I do not have a mission to seek out and destroy," he said. "My mission is to influence the people's opinion through our presence."
Water was one way to do that in the Ogaden. The general said a small hamlet outside Gode - almost directly in the center of the area - provided an opportunity. "These people walked through six inches of dust," Ghormley said. "It probably hasn't rained there for 30 years."
The villagers wanted a pump to help them get water from the river to their fields. "Army Staff Sgt. Chuck McDermott went out and bought a 14-horsepower pump and gave it to them," the general said.
The villagers designed the project and laid the pipes. They now have 15 hectares of irrigated land. Their corn, planted in October, is about three feet high. The group formed a co-op, and is reserving half of the crop to eat and half to sell.
Another program in the Ogaden was a hospital refurbishment in Jijiga, the chief city of the region. The hospital was built in 1945 and has not rehabilitated since. The command will work on a "mother-child" ward and also to get running water to the hospital. "The people there thought it was a miracle that we came in and fixed the hospital," Ghormley said.
The command "does things on the cheap," Ghormley said. Troops provide medical, dental and veterinary care at various places throughout the region. The troops drill wells, build bridges, refurbish or build schools and clinics. And they could do more. "I have a $15 million a year budget, which is pennies," he said.
The United States has a responsibility to its own citizens, but also to those in the region, Ghormley said.
"I tell people when they get assigned here that we're not better (than the people of the region), we're better off," he said. "And with that comes a responsibility to help lift the people of the region from just a level of existence to a level of subsistence - where they can provide for themselves."