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Steve Coll, author of Ghost Wars, a careful and thorough look at US involvement in Afghanistan through 2001, has written a column in the New Yorker about the botched raid across the Uganda DRC border sponsored by AFRICOM. The map above shows Garamba Park, where the raid took place.

Coll writes about how AFRICOM describes itself:

The explanatory “commander’s vision” on Africom’s Web site is a mush of “Dilbert”-inspired, PowerPoint mission creep. The Africa Command, it says, “develops and implements military programs that add value to the important endeavor of stability and security on the content of Africa and its island nations.” It also “directs, integrates and employs credible and relevant military capability in peace and in response to crisis.” It is a “trusted and reliable partner for nations and security institutions in Africa.” And, of course, it is a “listening and learning organization.”

If you could even sort out what those slogans mean in practice, would you believe them? Not anymore. On Saturday, the Times published an important piece about the training, planning, intelligence, and financial support Africa Command provided for a cross-border raid by Uganda’s military against the Lord’s Resistance Army, which had gone to ground in a national park in the Congo. The raid turned out to be the military equivalent of poking a bee’s nest with a stick—the L.R.A. escaped, and, in the ensuing rampage, its members killed hundreds of Congolese civilians.

Coll continues:

The L.R.A. is a cult-like militia with a long record of atrocities whose leader has been indicted by the International Criminal Court. One can imagine the White House review in the expiring Bush Administration that authorized support for an Ugandan mission, which included intelligence photos and mapping, operational plans, satellite phones, and a million dollars worth of fuel. As it has done for this season’s producers of “24,” mucking around in Africa would have offered the outgoing President and his advisers the fantasy that they could reframe, in a final act of heroism, the moral equation of their misbegotten Global War on Terror.

… Rather than the satisfying, vindicating capture of a child-conscripting war criminal, the George W. Bush Administration received a final lesson in the immutable laws of unintended consequences in war (which laws the Administration might have memorized after Iraq).

The larger issue here is the momentum that military liaison creates when it becomes the heavily funded nexus of U.S. policy. Africa Command’s mission is to “engage” with brother armies, its commanders have a professional bias to action, and they often do not take strategic direction from civilians until they are ready to present their war, engagement and training plans, whether in Colombia or Pakistan or Uganda. Military liaison, even if it is conceived progressively, becomes its own self-fulfilling destination, especially when the rest of the U.S. government is starved, by comparison, for resources.

AFRICOM, the US Africa Command, is the heavily funded nexus of US policy in Africa. US military investment dwarfs all other investment.

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