Memorial Day

I don’t want to let today go by without saying something in recognition of Memorial Day.  Our holiday honoring America’s war dead seemed for a time to be fading into more of a celebration of “the first day of summer” with less remembrance of sacrifices, but this year we seem to be a bit somber for a variety of reasons.

More than 1,000 Americans have died in the war in Afghanistan now, and for the first time since 2003 we have more soldiers, sailors, marines and airmen there in total than in Iraq, where we continue.  The campaign in Afghanistan is now America’s longest war–ever.   It started in the first year of the first George W. Bush administration and is now “Obama’s war” in his second year.  My son is in middle school–this war started when he was four years old.  I wonder if he will have to decide whether or not to go himself in just a few more years.

I am left with the feeling that while we are doing a better job recognizing and appreciating our men and women in the service, and honoring those who have given their lives, than at some times in the past, we are simply asking, and expecting, too much from them.  The effort in Afghanistan since late 2001 has really been more about nation building–the mission of taking out the Taliban was accomplished.  Likewise, in Iraq, the mission of taking Saddam Hussein out of power–what had not been done in 1991 that some were waiting out the Clinton years to pick back up on–was accomplished.  Since then, the real task has been building a substitute system.  These nation building tasks fall to the military because no one else knows what to do or is willing or has the resources.  In Iraq, the general in charge of the immediate post-Saddam effort was replaced by a civilian viceroy who eventually did a quick handoff to a not yet formed Iraqi government and left the military to pick up the pieces and carry on.

I pray for the success of the great projects of creating a new Afghanistan and a new Iraq, both for the men and women of these countries and for the men and women of the armed services (American and those from other countries) who have given so much to the effort–and especially for my old friend, a reservist, who is just now leaving his wife and young son to deploy to Iraq for a year.

It is in Africa that America has had very little military experience and has lost very few soldiers.  When I was in Kenya a survey came out noting that the United States was more popular in sub-Saharan Africa than anywhere else in the world–including within the United States itself.  I think we have a good bit to lose by dumping our diplomacy and development efforts onto the shoulders of AFRICOM now–the military has already been tasked with too much by our civilian leadership in the past several years and is still stretched too thin.  If we need to do more in the areas of development and diplomacy, then we need to step up to the plate and do it–not make it one more assignment for the military.  It is an extraordinary thing to see the Secretary of Defense, and especially the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff actually lobbying Congress for funding for the State Department, including USAID.  This is where the responsibility should rest.

A Must Read on the U.S. Government in Africa: “Pack like its Arizona”

There is so much that could be said in regard to a blog post I read and saved last week, but my policy on things related to the U.S. military is not to editorialize but to stay in “I report, you decide” [wink] mode.

If you are interested in understanding AFRICOM, and perhaps more generally the U.S. government in Africa, I think you really do owe it to yourself to just take a moment to read this post, “Pack Like its Arizona” , from AFRICOM public affairs.

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.

. . . .

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.

. . . .

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. Continue reading

U.S. House Speaker Pelosi Visits AFRICOM Headquarters in Stuttgart

U.S. Africa Command Home

The Speaker is no stranger to Africa.

“I met my husband at a course called the History of Africa South of the Sahara, and I have been studying Africa for decades,” Pelosi said in a brief interview.

“At long last the United States and the world is treating the continent, and individual countries, with the respect that they deserve,” she added.

At the conclusion of her U.S. AFRICOM engagement, Pelosi said that she was leaving confident “that General Ward and all of those working with him have a respectful attitude to the countries of Africa, want to work with them to develop solutions, and I have confidence that they will succeed.”

Piracy, AFRICOM and CENTCOM

 AFRICOM took over the Djibouti-based Combined Joint Task Force–Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) from CENTCOM in October 2008.  Combined Task Force 151 (CTF 151) includes the US portion of the military effort to combat piracy at sea and commenced operations in January 2009.  The Navy ships and sailors in CTF 151 are part of the 5th Fleet, based in Bahrain, which is under CENTCOM.  CENTCOM is headquartered in Tampa, Florida and AFRICOM is headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany.

Presumably this makes sense for historic and cultural reasons, given the greater connection of Tampa Bay to buccanners and such. 

For those wondering about the legal role of AFRICOM, the US federal statutory definition for such a “combatant command” is “a military command which has broad continuing missions” and in the case of the regional commands involves more than one military service.  The missions are to be reviewed by the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff (in otherwords military rather than civilian leadership) “not less often” than every two years, with recommendations then reported to the President.

Obama, Oil and AFRICOM–Pambazuka

“Obama, Oil and AFRICOM” from Daniel Volman in Pambazuka.

No real editorial comment here–lots of key budget numbers relating to AFRICOM, and Defense and State Department military training/assistance/ etc., for African states. Important stuff.

The existence of and significant budgetary “space” for AFRICOM is a fact of life. At the same time, it seems to me that much remains entirely “To Be Determined” as far as how it actually works and interacts with other institutions over the next few years with opportunities for it to be steered various different ways, or to simply proceed on bureaucratic momentum which might well be the worst case scenario in the long run.