Simon Tisdall in Washington
Monday June 25, 2007
A US delegation led by Ryan Henry, the principal deputy undersecretary of defence for policy, returned to Washington last week with little to show from separate consultations with senior defence and foreign ministry officials in Algeria, Morocco, Libya, Egypt, Djibouti and with the African Union (AU).
An earlier round of consultations with sub-Saharan countries on providing secure facilities and local backup for the new command, to be known as Africom and due to be operational by September next year, was similarly inconclusive.
The Libyan and Algerian governments reportedly told Mr Henry this month that they would play no part in hosting Africom. Despite recently improved relations with the US, both said they would urge their neighbours not to do so, either, due to fears of future American intervention. Even Morocco, considered Washington's closest north African ally, indicated it did not welcome a permanent military presence on its soil.
"We've got a big image problem down there," a state department official admitted. "Public opinion is really against getting into bed with the US. They just don't trust the US."
Another African worry was that any US facilities could become targets for terrorists, the official said. Dangled US economic incentives, including the prospect of hundreds of local jobs, had not proven persuasive.
Mr Henry said African officials had agreed during the talks that counter-terrorism was "a top security concern". But he added: "The countries were committed to the African Union as the continent's common security structure. They advised us that Africom should be established in harmony with the AU."
The US talks with Libya appear to have been frank. "In the area of security, they are looking for Africa-only solutions... I wouldn't say we see eye to eye on every issue," Mr Henry said. "I wouldn't say we see eye to eye on every issue."
Mr Henry emphasised the US was not seeking to supplant or supersede African leadership but rather to reinforce it. He said the creation of Africom would not entail the permanent stationing of large numbers of US troops in Africa, as in Asia and Europe.
Its overall aim was to integrate and expand US security, diplomatic, developmental and humanitarian assistance in collaboration with regional allies, not increased interventionism, he said.
Unveiling the plan in February, president George Bush said Africom would advance "our common goals of peace, security, development, health, education, democracy and economic growth".
But African opposition appears to have modified Washington's approach. Mr Henry said the latest plans envisaged "a distributed command" that would be "networked" across several countries, rather than a single, large headquarters in one place.
"There will be a staff headquarters... with a four-star in-theatre commander," he said. "(But) information technology allows us to bring people at dispersed geographical locations together. We are investigating the possibility of having the command distributed in a number of different nodes around the continent."
Mr Henry said this approach matched that of Islamist terrorists. "Al-Qaida is working in a distributive structure itself. It's establishing nodes throughout the region and there's been an establishment of al-Qaida in the Maghreb."
The state department official said the US remained confident that partners for the Africom project would eventually be found, although concerns persisted about political stability, misgovernance and corruption issues in some potential sub-Saharan partner countries.
The official added that the command's security focus would include suspected terrorist training camps in Mali and southern Algeria, the spread of Islamic fundamentalist ideas and violence in the Maghreb, northern Nigeria and the Horn of Africa, suspected uranium smuggling in the Sahel region - and addressing the political instability and economic deprivation that fed extremism.
Energy supply is another factor sparking heightened US interest, notably in west Africa. Gulf of Guinea countries including Nigeria and Angola are projected to provide a quarter of US oil imports within a decade.
US aid and development projects in Africa are expanding rapidly. Mr Bush asked Congress this month to double to $30bn (£15bn) over the next five years US funding for Aids relief, plus $1.2bn to fight malaria. Washington has also broadened its involvement in efforts to end the Darfur crisis. Laura Bush, the First Lady, embarked on a five-day consciousness-raising tour today, to Senegal, Mozambique, Zambia and Mali.The Pentagon's plans to create a new US military command based in Africa have hit a wall of hostility from governments in the region reluctant to associate themselves publicly with the US "global war on terror".
U.S. Africa Command Brings New Concerns
Fears of Militarization on Continent Cited
By Walter Pincus
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 28, 2007
The creation of the Defense Department Africa Command, with responsibilities to promote security and government stability in the region, has heightened concerns among African countries and in the U.S. government over the militarization of U.S. foreign policy, according to a newly released study by the Congressional Research Service.
The Africa Command (AFRICOM) was announced in February by the Bush administration and is scheduled to begin operations in October with temporary headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany. AFRICOM would have traditional responsibilities of a combat command "to facilitate or lead [U.S.] military operations" on the continent, but would also include "a broader 'soft power' mandate aimed at preemptively reducing conflict and would incorporate a larger civilian component to address those challenges," according to the CRS study.
AFRICOM raises oversight issues for congressional committees, according to the report. "How will the administration ensure that U.S. military efforts in Africa do not overshadow or contradict U.S. diplomatic and development objectives?" the report asks. Similar concerns are being raised between Defense and State Department officials over the Pentagon's plans to take economic assistance programs begun in Iraq and Afghanistan and make them permanent and worldwide, with more than $1 billion allocated to them annually.
At a briefing last month after a trip to six African countries, Ryan Henry, principal deputy undersecretary of defense for policy, told reporters: "We discussed different mission areas . . . emphasizing the humanitarian, the building partnership capability, [and] civil affairs aspects." He said he discussed working "with the host nations to improve their capacity to exercise sovereignty over any ungoverned spaces" where terrorists could establish training bases.
One unresolved issue is where to put AFRICOM headquarters and its expected complement of 400 to 1,000 Americans. "Some initial reaction to locating the Africa Command on the continent has been negative," the CRS report said. Fear that it could represent a first step toward more U.S. troops in Africa led Henry to assure African leaders that the "principal mission will be in the area of security cooperation and building partnership capability. It will not be in war fighting.
AFRICOM has also raised concerns within the U.S. government. Whereas the State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development officials recognize that the Pentagon can obtain congressional funding that they cannot, "there is also concern that the military may overestimate its capabilities as well as its diplomatic role in Africa, or pursue activities that are not a core part of its mandate," CRS notes.
To meet that concern, a State Department civilian official is to be one of the two deputy commanders of AFRICOM, though that official would not be in the chain of command on military operations, according to the CRS report. In addition, more than one-third of AFRICOM headquarters personnel would be from outside the Pentagon. Defense officials told CRS that "the new command will seek greater interagency coordination with the State Department, USAID and other government agencies," according to the report.
Nicole Lee, the executive director of TransAfrica Forum, a think tank focusing on U.S. policy toward Africa, said a greater U.S. military presence in Africa is "neither wise nor productive." Instead, the administration should focus on "development assistance and respect for sovereignty,
AFRICOM notwithstanding, the Pentagon already has military, economic, humanitarian, counterterrorism and information programs underway in dozens of African countries.
The Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, set up in October 2002, maintains a semi-permanent presence of 1,500 U.S. military and civilian personnel at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, from which it carries out counterterrorism and humanitarian operations. U.S. military advisers from there currently aid the African Union mission in Sudan.
The Pentagon is carrying out information operations with military information support teams deployed to U.S. embassies on the continent. One such operation includes a Web site ( http://www.magharebia.com) that provides news and comment directed at North Africa in Arabic, French and English.
The Defense Department has also agreed on access to air bases and ports in Africa and "bare-bones" facilities maintained by local security forces in Gabon, Kenya, Mali, Morocco, Namibia, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia, according to the CRS report.
Under "Operation Enduring Freedom: Trans Sahara/Trans Sahara Counter-Terrorism Initiative," the Pentagon has provided $500 million to increase border security and counterterrorism capacity to Mali, Chad, Niger and Mauritania. The Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program has provided small arms and training for peacekeeping operations to Benin, Botswana, Cote d'Ivoire, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa, Uganda and Zambia.