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AFRICOM at 5 Years: The Maturation of a New U.S. Combatant Command


AFRICOM at 5 Years: The Maturation of a New U.S. Combatant Command - Cover

Authored by David E. Brown.

August 2013

128 Pages

Brief Synopsis

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), newest of the six U.S. Department of Defense geographic combatant commands (CCMDs), was created in 2007 amid great controversy in both Africa and the United States over its location and mission. Over the last 5 years, AFRICOM has matured greatly, overcoming much of the initial resistance from African stakeholders through careful public messaging, and by addressing most of the U.S. interagency concerns about the Command’s size and proper role within the U.S. national security/foreign policy community. This Letort Paper describes the geostrategic, operational, and intellectual changes that explain why AFRICOM was created, and debunks three myths about AFRICOM: that it was created to “exploit” Africa's oil and gas riches, “blocks” China’s rise in Africa, and that France “opposes” AFRICOM. The author concludes by raising five issues that are important to AFRICOM’s future: 1) allocated forces to carry out short-term training engagements in Africa; 2) preference to emerging democracies in the selection of the Command’s partner-nations; 3) the desirability of regional approaches in Africa, including helping the African Union and its Regional Economic Communities to establish standby brigades; 4) the location of the Command’s headquarters, which should remain in Stuttgart, Germany, for operational efficiency; and, 5) the need to carry out a top-down “right-sizing” exercise at AFRICOM during a time of severe budget constraints and a real risk for the United States of “strategic insolvency.”

Summary

The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), the newest of the six U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) geographic combatant commands (CCMDs), was created in 2007 amid great controversy in both Africa and the United States over its location and mission. Over the last 5 years, AFRICOM has matured greatly, overcome much of the initial resistance from African stakeholders, and addressed most U.S. interagency concerns about the Command’s size and proper role within the U.S. national security/foreign policy community. AFRICOM is a CCMD Plus, because it also has: 1) a broader soft power mandate aimed at building a stable security environment; and, 2) a relatively larger personnel contingent from other U.S.
Government agencies.

This Letort Paper is divided into five parts. Part I notes that, during the Cold War, Africa remained a low-security priority for the United States, but that from the 1990s to 2007, there were geostrategic, operational, and intellectual changes that explain why AFRICOM was eventually created and how it was structured. Two key geopolitical changes were: 1) the rise, particularly post-September 11, 2001 (9/11), of nonstate actors in Africa—terrorists and criminals—who presented asymmetric threats; and, 2) the continent’s growing economic importance in the world, both as a source of strategic natural resources and increasingly as a market. Two important operational reasons behind AFRICOM’s creation were that: 1) the U.S. Central and European Commands had become overstretched by the mid-2000s fighting and supporting wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; and, 2) crises in Africa had revealed seams between Commands’ boundaries that needed to be closed. There were also four intellectual changes in geopolitical thinking that shaped how AFRICOM was structured: an increased recognition of the interdependence of security and development, a new emphasis on conflict prevention and stability operations vice warfighting, the emergence of the broader concept of human security and the related responsibility to protect (R2P); and the growing need for new jointness, or whole-of-government approaches to interagency cooperation.

Part II explains how this fourth intellectual change—the growing need for a new jointness in interagency cooperation—is critical to the improved integration of the U.S. national security/foreign policy community. The author advocates that Congress pass new Goldwater-Nichols-type legislation, including provisions upgrading the role for the top interagency representative at all geographic CCMDs, requiring assignments at other agencies for promotion into the senior ranks, modifying civil service rules to allow more service at other agencies, and outlining principles for cost-sharing between agencies to facilitate exchanges of personnel.

Part III illustrates how AFRICOM has matured greatly over the past 5 years. AFRICOM got off to a rocky beginning in 2007, when DoD, the U.S. Department of State (DoS), and the White House mishandled the Command’s start-up, to include proposing that its headquarters be relocated to Africa—a move thoroughly rejected by the large majority of African governments. However, AFRICOM has slowly recovered through a consistent public affairs message articulated by its top leadership, which emphasized the Command’s capacity for building civilian-led African militaries. The Command also got off to a slow start in its internal planning and assessment processes and loosely prioritized tens of millions of dollars in engagement expenditures from 2007-10. However, AFRICOM is now better at integrating this work with the DoD planning cycles in Washington and with U.S. Embassy strategic plans in Africa, including a much-improved annual planning cycle that touches senior interagency officials at multiple points.

Part IV points out that the AFRICOM-led military operation initiated in Libya in 2011, as well as reports of expanded intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance in the Sahel and Horn of Africa over the last 2 years, have given the Command more of a military operations complexion than initially anticipated, creating both new controversy and support among African and U.S. stakeholders. At the same time, the Command has had considerable success in blunting criticism that it was “militarizing” U.S. foreign policy toward Africa. Factors behind this success include: AFRICOM’s mainly positive track record of seeking close cooperation with the interagency, AFRICOM’s relatively modest “development” projects focused on HIV/AIDS in the military, and its continued primary focus on sustained long-term capacity building with African militaries. Part IV also debunks three myths about AFRICOM: that it was created to exploit Africa’s oil and gas riches, that it blocks China’s rise in Africa, and that France opposes AFRICOM.

In Part V, the author concludes by raising five issues important to AFRICOM’s future: 1) allocated forces to carry out short-term training engagements in Africa; 2) giving preference to emerging democracies in the selection of the Command’s partner-nations; 3) the desirability of regional approaches in Africa, in cluding helping the African Union and its Regional Economic Communities to establish standby brigades; 4) the location of the Command’s headquarters, which should remain in Stuttgart, Germany, for now for operational efficiency; and, 5) the need at a time of severe budget constraints and a real risk for the United States of strategic insolvency to carry out a top-down right-sizing exercise at AFRICOM, including careful examination of its investments in intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance assets.

Four background addenda follow this report. They introduce the three major terrorism groupings in Africa, describe several of AFRICOM’s security cooperation programs, present AFRICOM’s Mission Statement and Commander’s Intent, and provide examples of continued African opposition to AFRICOM in the print media.


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