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American Forces Press Service

Gates Assesses 'Soft,' 'Hard' Power Applications in Djibouti

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

CAMP LEMONIER, Djibouti, Dec. 3, 2007 – Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates traveled here today to see firsthand how combining multiple elements of U.S. national power toward a common goal is helping to prevent terrorism from taking a foothold in the Horn of Africa.

Gates, here for the first time, met today with Djiboutian President Ismail Omar Guelleh and Defense Minister Ougoureh Kifleh Ahmed at the presidential palace. From there, he traveled to this former French Foreign Legion base that’s headquarters to Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa to get a sense of what’s working and how those lessons can be applied to the new U.S. Africa Command.

Navy Rear Adm. James M. Hart, task force commander, described operations under way to provide not just security assistance, but also humanitarian support and development to the Horn of Africa and Yemen.

These initiatives fall directly in line with the “soft” elements of national power Gates wants to see beefed up so non-military U.S. government entities can be stronger partners in advancing U.S. interests around the world.

Speaking last week at Kansas State University, Gates emphasized that the military can’t go it alone in standing up to threats the country will face for the foreseeable future. He urged greater funding for diplomatic and other non-military aspects of U.S. national power so they’re better able to complement the military’s kinetic “hard-power” capabilities.

Gates told reporters today that he looks at Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa as a model of that concept through its military-to-military efforts and humanitarian and civic-support activities.

“It’s a good model for Africa Command, but also an indication of the mix of activities I think we should be doing more of,” he said.

“Kinetic efforts alone cannot achieve our goals in today’s type of conflict,” a senior defense official traveling with Gates told reporters.

She pointed to the “three Ds” -- defense, diplomacy and development -- as “three legs to a stool” that provide a solid base of support. “And you can’t succeed in one without moving forward on all three in order to get to a stable environment,” she said.

CJTF-HOA serves as a unique model for this approach, another official explained.

The task force initially stood up in November 2002 as a seafaring force aimed at blocking terrorists fleeing Afghanistan from setting up a new safe haven here. But within six months, it moved ashore and its mission morphed into a blend of military cooperation, military-to-military training and humanitarian assistance over a massive region two-thirds the size of the United States.

Today, CJTF-HOA applies the “three Ds” as personnel representing the Defense Department, State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development work hand-in-hand to create a stable climate that promotes a better quality of life for the local population.

Security is the base upon which other goals are built, an official said. So CJTF-HOA partners with nations within the Horn of Africa to build their military capacity so they can counter threats and maintain stability.

Meanwhile, the task force advances an active civil-works program and humanitarian assistance efforts from providing medical and veterinary care to promoting school and medical clinic construction and water development projects.

“JTF-HOA has been experimental and unique in that it is one of the places where we have integrated this concept of development (and) traditionally humanitarian-style outreach efforts in a non-combat environment,” the official said.

Gates talked today with commanders about lessons learned -- the good as well as the bad -- and how they can be applied elsewhere, including Iraq and Afghanistan, she said. Those lessons will be critical as the new U.S. Africa Command takes shape, and in many ways, looks to CJTF-HOA as its model.

“How does he make sure the good (CJTF-)HOA is doing is maintained as AFRICOM stands up, and how do we find the right role for HOA itself as AFRICOM matures in the future?” the defense official asked.

Gates’ discussions with Djiboutian officials included an assessment of the role CJTF-HOA will play in the new command and how to enhance efforts under way on the Horn of Africa. “It’s a very unique opportunity for him to meet with the Djiboutian leadership to ask them their perspective and advice on JTF-HOA and the role it plays, not only in Djibouti, but in the region,” she said.

That’s critical in this area chock-full of real or potential flashpoints, including Somalia; Darfur, Sudan; the border region between Ethiopia and Eritrea; and ungoverned areas where terrorists driven from Afghanistan might seek refuge.

Navy Capt. Bob Wright, the task force’s public affairs officer, said CJTF-HOA is actively working “to remove conditions that allow radicalization to occur.”

“Our success will be in preventing conflict,” he said.

While visiting with officials, Gates saw signs of the huge growth taking place that will expand Camp Lemonier from 97 to 500 acres. The expansion will provide vast quality-of-life improvements for troops here, replacing that tents some currently live in with permanent structures.

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