A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Photographs by Justin Bishop.

A U.S. Special Forces soldier instructs Malian troops in counterterrorism tactics through a translator (right, in black turban) on the outskirts of Timbuktu. Photographs by Justin Bishop (2007).

To understand AFRICOM, it is important to look at where the energy and where the money are focused.

In May b real wrote at Moon of Alabama:

… maintaining control of the perception of AFRICOM is very important in the initial stages of the new command. However, since the official public image of AFRICOM (”a new kind of command” combining humanitarian missions with the pentagon’s soft power capabilities to help Africans help themselves) hardly matches up with the command’s true mission (secure and guarantee U.S. access to vital energy sources and distribution channels while containing China’s growing superpower status), AFRICOM, and everyone involved in promoting it, will remain beset by their own contradictions and weaknesses.

An article at CNN reports:

Africom’s deputy for military operations, Vice Adm. Robert T. Moeller, said in a telephone interview Monday … “Our primary responsibility … is working with our African partners to help them build their security capacity” — mainly by training armies and peacekeepers. Moeller added that “a secure and stable Africa is very, very much in U.S. strategic interests.”

And from General Ward in another story:

“Our primary mission is to work with the nations of Africa and their organizations to assist them in increasing their capacity to provide for their own security,” Gen. William E. Ward, commander of U.S. Africa Command, told reporters during the inauguration ceremony of AFRICOM.

And yet, Refugees International reports AFRICOM’s security budget is meager:

Currently, no funds are allocated for security sector and governance capacity-building for African nations. Instead, funding is being requested for Global War on Terror priorities.

[In Africa] Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance.

From CNN again:

Africans believe Africom is aimed at promoting America’s interests, not Africa’s,” said Wafula Okumu, a Kenyan analyst at South Africa’s Institute for Security Studies.

Most Africans don’t trust their own militaries, which in places like Congo have turned weapons on their own people.

As is also decribed by Refugees International:

… the Defense Department is virtually ignoring the nation’s [Congo's] desperate need of military reform. As a result, an inadequately resourced security sector reform program has contributed to the Congolese army becoming a major source of insecurity for civilian communities.

Refugees International also describes the funding imbalances that both drive and describe the militarization of US foreign policy:

Foreign assistance represents less than one percent of the federal budget, while defense spending is 20% … Between 1998 and 2005, the percentage of Official Development Assistance the Pentagon controlled exploded from 3.5% to nearly 22%, while the percentage controlled by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) shrunk from 65% to 40%.

An article in HStoday (unintentionally) makes even more clear the contradictions in the role of the Africa command:

The CT [AFRICOM counterterrorism] officials told HSToday.us that Al Qaeda and Al Qaeda-influenced Muslim jihadists in Africa are becoming an increasingly serious terrorist threat that has forced much greater attention to be focused on the region.
one of the Command’s fundamental roles is indeed counterterror intelligence and disruption operations.

Yet from the same article:

“in many parts of Africa it is perceived as the US bringing its war on terror to Africa. That is not what AFRICOM is about, but that is how it has been seen.”

Which is almost funny, considering the content of most of the article.

While long-term US strategic interests in Africa clearly are of concern and under the purview of AFRICOM, the more immediate problem for the US is Islamist terrorism, the CT officials told HSToday.us.

For the time being, AFRICOM will be based in Stuttgart, with covert intelligence operatives working out of US installations and front companies throughout Africa.

This last strikes me as nightmarishly bad foreign policy. It sounds like the US is replaying all the worst features of US foreign policy in Africa (and in Asia and Latin America) from the last 60 years. This is how you destabilize governments, with “disruption operations”.  It is not capacity building, it does not strengthen human security.  It is not partnering or peacekeeping.  It does not help refugees return home or economies develop.  It does not make things anywhere more secure and stable.  It promotes trade in contraband and the destabilizing movement of money across borders facilitating more trade in contraband.  As well as being destructive, covert disruption operations are not cheap, and they are not easy to justify in budget requests, which makes using and encouraging contraband for funding more attractive.

Contrast again the two statements above:

[In Africa] Global War on Terror imperatives do not address the continent’s biggest needs for security assistance.

and:

… one of the Command’s fundamental roles is indeed counterterror intelligence and disruption operations … the more immediate problem for the US is Islamist terrorism …

The representatives of AFRICOM are telling the American and African public that AFRICOM is all about peacekeeping, capacity building, and security.   But the focus of the energy and funding for AFRICOM is all about counterterrorism, military development, psyops and disruptive covert operations.  The public narrative is lies and illusions.  The public narrative creates a false front and false face to those whose lives will be most seriously impacted.

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