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American Forces Press Service

Africa Command Makes Progress With African Allies

By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WARRENTON, Va., March 31, 2008 – U.S. Africa Command is making progress in gaining acceptance in Africa, the command’s deputy for civil-military affairs said in an interview here.

“We’re doing OK,” Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates said in a tone that indicated she’d like to do much better. Yates is the No. 2 person in U.S. Africa Command and the first civilian to hold such a position in a U.S. combatant command.

The command will reach full operational capability Oct. 1. The going hasn’t been easy, AFRICOM officials said, as many African leaders questioned the formation of the command -- calling it a U.S. grab for African resources -- while others felt the command represented the militarization of U.S. foreign policy.

The U.S. position, Yates explained, is that the command is a reorganization that allows the U.S. military to help the Africans themselves provide security and to support the far larger U.S. civilian agency programs on the continent.

“What we are finding is that the more we explain, the more understanding (there is) that it is a reorganization,” Yates said, “and that we want the security relationships to continue as they are and find ways to enrich and enhance this.”

The command will provide expertise for all of Africa and surrounding island nations, with the exception of Egypt. The continent currently is split among U.S. European Command, U.S. Central Command and U.S. Pacific Command. AFRICOM will take over responsibility for programs those commands are currently running in Africa.

Africa Command also is breaking new ground in that it includes civilians from federal agencies outside the Defense Department. In addition to Yates, leaders from the U.S. Agency for International Development, the departments of Treasury, Justice and Commerce, and other agencies are integral parts of the new command.

“We believe the new interagency approach is the way we can build more,” the ambassador said. “We can buttress what we’re doing to have the programs more effective.”

Civilian agencies have the expertise in Africa, Yates said, adding that it’s the right time for such a step. “The biggest difference I have seen in my 20 years of being involved in Africa is the Africans are taking more responsibility for themselves,” she said.

Africans want to fight the nearly endemic corruption, she said, and they understand that democracies are less likely to go to war. They also realize they need help in fighting the spread of AIDS. They understand the relationship between security and economic progress, and they believe they are up to the challenge, she added.

“They’ll decide which programs they want to enrich their security and stability, and we, hopefully, will be ready and have built a more effective 21st-century structure to work with them,” Yates said.

Africa Command is a “listening command,” Yates said, and command officials have taken every opportunity to explain their mission to African leaders and the African people.

At meetings here last week, the Americans laid out their concerns about problems, and the Africans shared their perspective. Then both sides looked at the common ground.

“What’s really important is for us to realize we are different, and we look at things differently,” Yates said. Even the Africans differ depending on their region, their tribe, their history and their resources, she noted.

The ambassador said she believes more dialogues with more people would be helpful -- that Americans cannot stay in their stovepipes, but rather must reach out for the cross-fertilization of ideas. If that doesn’t happen, she said, “we’re not going to get it right.”

“One of my biggest ‘takeaways’ (from the talks here) is that we have to find more ways for routine consultations,” she said. “It’s one thing for the Americans to interact with the Africans; it’s also wonderful to have the Africans interacting with each other and learning from the debates that go on between them.”

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