GAO says U.S. Dept. of Defense needs to determine future of Horn of Africa Task Force; report highlights challenges regarding coordination and effectiveness of civil affairs/development work

Government Accountability Office release.

The full 45 page report is here.

When we met with CJTF-HOA officials in October 2009, they estimated that, in addition to other tasks, about 60 percent of the task force’s activities focus on civil affairs projects. To conduct these quick, short-term projects, CJTF-HOA has established small civil affairs teams (for example, five or six personnel) who deploy to remote areas to engage the local communities and perform activities such as medical and veterinary care for local communities. While deployed, the teams generally nominate project proposals based on assessments they conduct as to what the communities need. The proposals are reviewed for approval by USAID, the embassy, CJTF-HOA, and AFRICOM prior to execution. During our October 2009 visit to the U.S. embassy in Ethiopia, we learned of several project proposals from civil affairs teams deployed in the country, ranging from under $10,000 to about $200,000—including the construction of a teaching farm, school renovations, training for local mechanics,

construction of an orphanage, and renovation of a bridge. None of the project proposals in Ethiopia had been approved at the time of our visit. CJTF-HOA officials told us that the project approval process can be lengthy, potentially lasting an entire year. This is generally longer than the tour rotations of some CJTF-HOA civil affairs team personnel.

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Furthermore, CJTF-HOA is coordinating with the Navy and coalition partners in CENTCOM’s Coalition Task Force 151, which conducts maritime security operations to protect shipping routes in the Gulf of Aden, Gulf of Oman, Arabian Sea, Red Sea, and Indian Ocean. AFRICOM has also established a socio-cultural research and advisory team on a semipermanent basis at Camp Lemonnier. The team consists of one to five social scientists who conduct research and provide cultural advice to the command.

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Other CJTF-HOA proposed activities may not consider the full range of possible effects or may not be clearly aligned with AFRICOM’s mission. For example, Department of State and USAID officials we contacted at one U.S. embassy expressed concern that some of the activities that CJTF-HOA had previously proposed, such as building schools for the partner nation, did not appear to fit into a larger strategic framework, and said that they did not believe CJTF-HOA was monitoring its activities as needed to enable it to demonstrate a link between activities and mission. These officials told us that instead of leveraging long-term data to guide future activity planning, CJTF-HOA may be proposing activities without considering the full range of potential consequences. The embassy officials cited a past example where CJTF-HOA had proposed drilling a well without considering how its placement could cause conflict in clan relationships or affect pastoral routes. Officials at other embassies described similar problems with CJTF-HOA proposals. To mitigate such issues, U.S. embassies have steered CJTF-HOA toward contributing to projects identified by USAID, which are better aligned with embassy and U.S. foreign policy goals. Moreover, some CJTF-HOA activities appear to be sporadic, short-term events that may not promote sustained or long-term security engagement.

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We also found instances in which CJTF-HOA was either unaware of or did not follow up on some infrastructure activities. At a training exercise for incoming CJTF-HOA officials, discussion was raised concerning CJTF-HOA’s recent discovery of a dilapidated school in Kenya with a placard stating “donated by CJTF-HOA”; current staff had been unaware of the school’s existence. Department of State and USAID officials at one U.S. embassy also stated that CJTF-HOA had built a well for a local community, but the staff did not teach the community how to maintain it. While some of CJTF-HOA’s activities may promote temporary benefits for the participants, their short-term nature or unintended long-term effects could potentially promote unfavorable views of the U.S. military among partner nations. In recognition of this issue, CJTF-HOA recently added an area to its project nomination process form that would require civil affairs teams to identify what party (e.g., the host nation) will sustain the proposed project. However, without requiring long-term assessments of activities, it is difficult for AFRICOM to determine the effectiveness of CJTF-HOA, which is critical for overall planning efforts and its decisions on the task force’s future.

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African Cultural Issues. AFRICOM’s posture statement identifies cultural awareness and regional expertise as core competencies for AFRICOM. However, we found instances in which CJTF-HOA was not able to conduct activities as effectively as possible due to limited understanding of cultural issues, such as the time required to conduct activities in African villages or local religious customs. In one case, according to a U.S. embassy official, CJTF-HOA provided 3 days notice to the host nation that it would conduct a medical clinic in a remote village in Djibouti. However, because the villagers are nomads, it was difficult to get participants due to the short amount of notice. U.S. embassy officials also shared with us an instance in which CJTF-HOA’s proposal for a 1-day veterinary vaccination event could have actually harmed the livestock by having them travel when they were weakened from a recent drought. As another example, CJTF-HOA distributed used clothing to local Djibouti villagers during Ramadan, which offended the Muslim population. However, a couple of U.S. embassies acknowledged that CJTF-HOA is working to improve its expertise in African issues. In Tanzania, for example, a U.S. embassy official said that the CJTF-HOA team members had become proficient in Swahili, helping them to develop relationships. Getting to know the language, culture, and the people in the region, the embassy official said, has contributed to the success in developing a Tanzanian-American partnership in a region where extremists are known to operate. According to AFRICOM, the command is drafting guidance that will address cultural training, which it expects to issue in spring 2010. More widespread and robust cultural understanding of its partner nations could help CJTF-HOA avoid potentially unfavorable views of itself among the Africans and risk straining relations between partner nations and the U.S. government.

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  1. Pingback: AFRICOM continued: “The Pivot to Africa” in Foreign Policy | AfriCommons Blog

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