Africa Command Poised to Help Continent’s Security, Stability
By Steven Donald Smith
Special to American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Sept. 21, 2007 The U.S. military’s new Africa Command will be dissimilar to other unified commands in a variety of ways, not least of which is its primary charge to cultivate security, not fight a war, a top Defense Department official said here yesterday.
“Instead of saying warfighting is the primary mission of the command, we are flipping the equation around, and we are saying that the primary mission of this command is to focus on building security capacities in Africa so that Africans can manage their own security challenges,” Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, said.
Speaking at a panel discussion at the American Enterprise Institute, Whelan also worked to allay fears and dispel rumors that AFRICOM represents an American militarization of Africa and a possible usurpation of power from African leaders. She said critics are wrong in their assertion that AFRICOM is an attempt to further expand the war on terror in Africa, secure oil reserves, or hedge against Chinese influence there. “That is patently untrue,” she said.
Whelan said the U.S. military will work cooperatively with Africans to support many of their initiatives, such as an African standby force that can respond quickly to a problem area. “The Defense Department will not reinvent the wheel,” she said. “We want to take what Africans have already built and assist in making a reality.”
Much of Africa has been plagued by decades of strife and violence, much of which is directly attributed to the Cold War struggle for influence on the continent. Whelan said AFRICOM’s mission could help bring the peace and security that common Africans deserve.
AFRICOM will work with other U.S. government agencies to make this a reality. The command will have many civilians from these agencies integrated into its work force. Whelan said the command will consist of people from the State, Treasury, and Commerce departments, along will personnel from the U.S. Agency for International Development.
She emphasized that all components of the U.S. government must work together with African governments to help achieve the goal of promoting stability and security.
“You cannot promote security and stability successfully in a vacuum,” she said. “Stability and security are interlinked with other elements such as good governance, the rule of law, and economic opportunity.”
By having interagency personnel with different areas of expertise integrated into the command, the knowledge base will be broadened, which will help the command fulfill its duty. “This does not represent an acquisition by the command of authority,” she said. “It represents simply an acquisition of knowledge.”
Africa Command also will be unique in that it will have two deputies, one of whom will be a State Department official who will be responsible primarily for theater security cooperation. In addition, the command will maintain the usual political advisor.
Whelan drove home the point that the creation of Africa Command does not in any way subordinate U.S. ambassadors to the Department of Defense or put the command in any position to dictate to those ambassadors. In essence, the command will be a supporting element to ambassadors in peacetime, she said.
“We see ourselves in the command as a supporting element of U.S. foreign policy. And through this single command for the 53 countries of the African continent, we believe that a holistic unified approach will make us a more effective supporting player in the system,” Whelan said.
She emphasized that the bulk of U.S. operations in Africa over the past several years have been focused on non-security measures. Nine billion dollars has gone to non-security programs in recent years, and only $250 million to security programs, she said. The allocation of U.S. money to humanitarian efforts is unlikely to change, she said, but AFRICOM will work to create a secure environment where the money will be better used.
“We recognize that if countries in Africa are going to develop successfully, they must have a minimal semblance of security that is sustainable over the long haul,” she said.
Former Deputy Defense Secretary Paul Wolfowitz also spoke at the event. He said Sub-Saharan Africa has lagged behind the recent economic boom in many nations in Asia and Latin America mainly because of lack of security.
“I think the fundamental American interest is in seeing Sub-Saharan Africa turn the corner and stop being the hopeless continent that “The Economist” described in a cover story four or five years ago, and begin to be a continent of hope,” he said. “The reluctance of the U.S. military to even think about Africa is much more of a problem than the danger of so-called militarization.”
In July, President Bush named Army Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward as U.S. Africa Command’s first commander. AFRICOM, which should be initially established by the end of this month, will be responsible for every African nation and associated islands, with Egypt, the sole exception, remaining under U.S. Central Command.
AFRICOM also will be responsible for helping to secure African territorial waters. Aside from the U.S. military base already established in Djibouti, there will be no U.S. military bases on the continent, and only about 20 percent of the command’s personnel will be in stationed in Africa. The location of the command’s headquarters has yet to be determined.