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American Forces Press Service

Priorities Set U.S. Africa Command’s Agenda

By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service

STUTTGART, Germany, June 11, 2012 – After a year of significant change sweeping the African continent – a wave of democratic movements, the emergence of South Sudan as the world’s newest nation and an increase in violent extremism, among them – U.S. Africa Command is using the new defense strategic guidance to shape its engagement in the theater.

“In line with the new strategic guidance, we’ve prioritized our efforts, focusing on the greatest threats to America, Americans and American interests,” Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, Africom commander, told the Senate Armed Services Committee in March.

Ham’s strategy, encapsulated in an eight-page command strategy document published in September, is based on four top priorities:

-- Countering terrorism and violent extremist organizations;

-- Countering piracy and illicit trafficking;

-- Partnering to strengthen defense capabilities; and

-- Preparing for and responding to crises.

All support two guiding principles, Ham explained during an interview with American Forces Press Service at his headquarters here: that a safe, secure and stable Africa is in the United States’ national interests, and that Africans are best suited to address African security challenges.

No Africom effort gets higher billing than its initiatives aimed at eliminating terrorist safe havens and support for terrorist organizations intent on attacking the United States and its citizens, allies and interests abroad.

“Countering the threats posed by al-Qaida affiliates in East and Northwest Africa remains my No. 1 priority,” Ham said.

But for security to take hold in Africa for the long-term, Ham also recognizes the importance of strengthening African partners’ defense capabilities so they can address their own security challenges. He noted ongoing efforts to increase capacity in peacekeeping, maritime security, disaster response and other key areas. The general noted the value of this investment, from “train-the-trainer” sessions conducted at the tactical level to leader development programs that will have positive long-term strategic implications.

“We are planting seeds, if you will, and allowing those to develop and grow,” he said, noting that it’s all being done with no permanently assigned forces and limited forces on the ground.

“I think we get a disproportionate positive effect for a relatively small investment,” Ham said. “We don’t use lots of troops. Generally, our exercises and engagements are pretty small-scale.” They typically involve an individual ship, a small group of Marines, Seabees or veterinarians, or a maintenance detachment, he explained.

“But the effect is multiplied, because our focus is on training and enabling the Africans to do things for themselves,” he said. “So there is a compounding effect that results from our engagement.”

Army Maj. Gen. Charles Hooper, Africom’s director of strategy, plans and programs, said Africom’s small force structure, limited assets and relatively small budget makes it a Defense Department model as it puts into practice new strategic guidance that emphasizes leaner, more agile operations.

“If you look at the strategic guidance, it talks about a small footprint,” he said. “And I would say that Africa Command is the quintessential small footprint, providing the maximum return and the maximum impact for our national policies with limited resources. We have become masters at providing the maximum return on investment.”

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