Some important reading while watching AFRICOM evolve

From the Small Wars Journal an article entitled “The Slow Motion Coup: Militarization and the Implications of Eisenhower’s Prescience”.  The author, William J. Olsen, is a professor at the National Defense University’s Near East South Asia Center for Strategic Studies, a counterpart to the Africa Center for Strategic Studies:

Or another simple question: Why do we have Combatant Commanders?  This is a model drawn from WWII, made formal and deeply rooted as the result of the Cold War.  Both are over.  Why does the establishment linger?  And if we are to have a pro-consul per region, why a military officer?  Why not a senior civilian with a military adviser?

In this context, something else I have long recommended reading for getting a “feel” for AFRICOM is Chapter Seven of Robert Kaplan’s Imperial Grunts: The American Military on the Ground.  The chapter is titled “CENTCOM, Horn of Africa, Winter 2004, with notes on East Africa”.  Although the period Kaplan covers is before the stand up of AFRICOM as a separate Combatant Command, he visits the Marines of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti and accompanies an Army Civil Affairs Team setting up in Lamu, Kenya:

     These teams had a twofold mission: make a sustained contribution to the island’s quality of life, so that the inhabitants would see a relationship with the U.S. as in their best interests; and more immediately, be the advance guard for U.S. Marines from the U.S.S. Germantown coming ashore to repair a school and conduct a MEDCAP.

Lamu was an example of the new paradigm for projecting American power: modernize host country bases for use as strategic outposts, maintain local relationships through humanitarian projects, then use such relationships to hunt down “bad guys.”  Whether it was upgrading a runway, digging a well, or whacking a terrorist, the emphasis was always on small teams.

More broadly:

    The new paradigm gave (Marine) Brig. Gen. Robeson a sort of power that no U.S. ambassador or assistant secretary of state quite had.  Not only wasn’t he burdened by the State Department’s antiquated bureaucratic divisions but his ability to deal with the regions’s leaders and strongmen may also have been helped by a cause-and-effect, working class mind, disciplined by the logic of Marine tactical operations manuals and the classical military education he had received at Fort Leavenworth.  Though democracy was gaining in the region, many of the elected leaders with whom Robeson had developed relationships were former guerrilla fighters and military men . . .

The fact that generals like Mastin Robeson were in the diplomatic forefront, somewhat at the expense of the State Department, troubled commentators who assumed the permanence of industrial-age categories of bureaucratic responsibility, categories helped into being by the nineteenth-century professionalization of European militaries, which consequently separated them from civilian command structures.  But the distinctions appeared to be weakening.

From a review at Foreign Affairs:

Kaplan’s book is wider ranging. His underlying thesis is that the places he visits represent the periphery of a new American empire, whose fate will be determined by how its foot soldiers — the grunts — engage with the local populations. The analogy is to the frontiersmen of the nineteenth century: everywhere he goes he is welcomed to “Injun Country.” It is probably best not to worry too much about the thesis, which is half-baked, and instead enjoy the insights and reportage from a master of this sort of extreme travel writing.

Happy Djibouti Day–but don’t forget democracy and free speech

Here is Secretary Clinton’s message for the 35th Anniversary of independence for Djibouti:

On behalf of President Obama and the people of the United States, I am delighted to send best wishes to the people of Djibouti on the 35th anniversary of your independence this June 27.

Over the years, our two nations have continued to build a closer relationship. I appreciate all Djibouti has done to support our men and women working at Camp Lemonnier and to play a stabilizing role in the Horn of Africa, particularly in Somalia. I look forward to strengthening our partnership in the years to come by increasing access to healthcare and education, strengthening humanitarian assistance, and enhancing our security initiatives.

As you celebrate your independence, know that the government and people of the United States stand with you. We are committed to this relationship and to a brighter future for both our people.


Djibouti is the only African country with a full-blown U.S. military base–and it has a small population. A good test case for a New Africa Policy that emphasizes democracy perhaps?

Rescue of kidnapped aid workers in Somalia highlights Camp Lemonier, Djiboutti

“Djiboutti Outpost Behind Somalia Rescue is Part of New Defense Strategy”, Thom Shanker, New York Times:

. . . “Djibouti is the central location for continuing the effort against terrorism,” Defense Secretary Leon E. Panetta said during a visit to Camp Lemonier last month.

The trend in favor of a small American footprint overseas is expected to grow as Mr. Panetta must cut about $487 billion from the Pentagon budget over the next decade, even as he shifts more forces to Asia while not diminishing American deterrence and influence in the Middle East.

This military math may require the size of American forces to shrink in Europe and elsewhere — and bases like Camp Lemonier will be expected to manage the risk at a modest cost.

Jennifer G. Cooke, director of the Africa program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a policy center here, said the mission of the military’s Africa Command originally was to upgrade the abilities of local security forces — “so the U.S. would not be drawn into conflicts or crises.”

“But the United States may not have the leeway of waiting to build up partner capacities to take on these kinds of challenges,” she said. “So, being nimble and flexible with a light footprint in a place like Djibouti, the U.S. military may be required to tackle these crises immediately as they arise.”

Another important military mission that deploys a small force on the huge African continent is in Uganda.

In October, President Obama ordered 100 Special Operations advisers to Uganda to help train regional forces combating the Lord’s Resistance Army, a notorious renegade group that has terrorized villagers in at least four countries with marauding bands that kill, rape, maim and kidnap with impunity.

When Mr. Panetta visited Camp Lemonier, there were about 3,500 American personnel assigned there, up from the several hundred Marines and members of Special Operations forces that landed in 2003 when the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa relocated. It had been based on a warship when the mission was conceived a year before, dedicated to hunting for remnants of Al Qaeda in the wake of the Taliban’s ouster from Afghanistan.

The units include a headquarters staff, civil affairs teams that include doctors and veterinarians, as well as engineers and military trainers. Mostly invisible to the local population, the task force has responsibility for a vast area of Africa that includes Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Sudan and Yemen, across the Gulf of Aden — almost 70 percent the size of the continental United States.

“U.S. Swoops in and Frees Two in Somalia Raid”, Jeffrey Gettleman, Eric Schmitt and Thom Shanker, New York Times:

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Around 2 a.m. Wednesday, elders in the Somali village of Galkayo said they began hearing an unusual sound: the whirl of helicopters.

It was the culmination of a daring and risky mission by about two dozen members of the Navy Seals to rescue two hostages — an American aid worker and her Danish colleague — held by Somali pirates since October. The commandos had dropped down in parachutes under a cloak of darkness while 8,000 miles away President Obama was preparing to deliver his State of the Union address on Tuesday night. The commandos hiked two miles from where they landed, grabbed the hostages and flew them to safety.

For the American military, the mission was characterized by the same ruthless efficiency — and possibly good luck — as the raid on Osama bin Laden in May, which was carried out by commandos from the same elite unit. Nine Somali gunmen were killed; not a single member of the Seals was hurt.

One pirate from the area who seemed to have especially detailed information about the Seal raid said it involved “an electrical net-trap, flattened into the land,” which presumably was the parachute. “Then they started launching missiles,” said the pirate, who spoke by telephone and asked not to be identified.

Pirates operate with total impunity in many parts of lawless Somalia, which has languished without a functioning government for more than 20 years. As naval efforts have intensified on the high seas, stymieing hijackings, Somali pirates seem to be increasingly snatching foreigners on land. Just last week, pirates grabbed another American hostage not far from where the Seal raid took place. Continue reading

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