Uganda, from google maps, showing the border with Sudan and the DRC

Uganda, from google maps, showing the border with Sudan and the DRC

Senator Feingold has been a leading proponent of AFRICOM. I am in many respects an admirer of Senator Feingold. But he has either missed the point entirely regarding AFRICOM, or he has one or more agendas he has not revealed.

At the end of December AFRICOM funded and advised a strike by Uganda against the Lord’s Resistance Army in the northern DRC. I wrote about it with a map of the location here, with more details here. The raid was badly botched. It was the equivalent of striking a hornets nest with a stick. The raiders found only empty campsites. The Lord’s Resistance Army, LRA, which had been relatively quiet, followed their habitual predictable practice of reprisals against the civilian population. The result was hundreds of children kidnapped to be conscripted as child soldiers or sex conscripts. At least 900 people have been brutally murdered, and at least 100,000 displaced, their homes, villages, and livlihoods destroyed. These figures come from January. The killing, the theft of children and the displacement continue.

The New York Times described AFRICOM’s part in the raid:

It is the first time the United States has helped plan such a specific military offensive with Uganda, according to senior American military officials. They described a team of 17 advisers and analysts from the Pentagon’s new Africa Command working closely with Ugandan officers on the mission, providing satellite phones, intelligence and $1 million in fuel.

AFRICOM paid for the raid. Without the $1 million worth of fuel, it would not have been attempted, regardless of the other training and equipment provided. The LRA is a legitimate target for Uganda and its neighbors. But the raid was disasterously mishandled, and funded by US taxpayers.

As Steve Coll writes:

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.

After the raid, Mary Yates defended AFRICOM’s actions with the only defense available, that it was the LRA’s fault for committing the same evil acts that it has commited for decades, not mentioning that anyone could and should have predicted the danger. The error, in addition to botching the raid, was the complete failure to make any attempt to protect the civilian population.

But Sen. Feingold ignored all that. He blames only the local militaries, Uganda and the DRC. This is the great advantage of proxy armies. You can blame them for the losses, and claim credit for the wins. On Thursday Sen. Feingold testified to Congress:

Just over two months ago, the Ugandan, Congolese and South Sudanese militaries launched a joint offensive against the LRA’s primary bases in northeastern Congo. Serious concerns have been raised about the planning and implementation of this operation. …

… I am not ruling out that this offensive—still ongoing—may yet succeed. …

As a 17-year member of the Subcommittee on African Affairs and someone who has been involved with AFRICOM since its conception, I would like to offer some thoughts on this matter. While I supported AFRICOM’s creation, I have been concerned about its potential to eclipse our civilian agencies and thereby perpetuate perceptions on the continent of a militarized U.S. policy. It is essential that we get this balance right and protect chief of mission authority. By doing so, we can help ensure AFRICOM contributes to broader efforts to bring lasting peace and stability across Africa. When I visited AFRICOM’s headquarters last December and talked with senior officials, we discussed the important roles that it can play. They include helping to develop effective, well-disciplined militaries that adhere to civilian rule, strengthening regional peacekeeping missions, and supporting post-conflict demobilization and disarmament processes. In my view, assisting a multilateral operation to disarm an armed group that preys on civilians and wreaks regional havoc fits this job description, theoretically, at least.

Mr. President, to put it bluntly, I believe supporting viable and legitimate efforts to disarm and demobilize the LRA is exactly the kind of thing in which AFRICOM should be engaged

Following this botched raid, again, quoting Steve Coll:

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. …

And it is important to emphasize again, that no one consulted with Africa, the African Union, or African governments in creating AFRICOM. It is not welcome in Africa.

Olayiwola Abegunrin writes in AFRICOM: The U.S. Militarization of Africa:

AFRICOM is an example of U.S. military expansion in the name of the war on terrorism, when it is in fact designed to secure Africa’s resources and ensure American interests on the continent. AFRICOM represents a policy of U.S. military-driven expansionism that will only enhance political instability, conflict, and the deterioration of state security in Africa. This is a project that most African countries have rejected to be located on their soil. … AFRICOM would destabilize an already fragile continent, which would be forced to engage with U.S. interests on military terms.

Militarization of Africa with the U.S. designed so-called AFRICOM is not the solution to Africa’s problem. What African countries need is development of their own institutions for security, political and economic independence; massive infusion of foreign direct investment, fair equitable trade, access to U.S. markets, and for U.S. to decrease/or total removal of agricultural subsidies, debt relief and improved Official Development Assistance tailored towards the development aspirations of (recipient countries) African countries and not AFRICOM that will only lead to militarizing the continent.

So what does Senator Feingold really expect to get out of AFRICOM? for the US or for Africa? Is he simply deluded as to the certainty that leading with military laison will destabilize a continent? Or is there something he is not saying that he hopes to accomplish? Does the importance to him of this unspoken goal outweigh recognition of the dangers of AFRICOM, just as the urge to attack the LRA outweighed the clear and obvious dangers of such an attack. The botched raid against the LRA is likely to be the template for many future disasters with AFRICOM leading US policy in Africa. All those involved in the planning and funding of AFRICOM will bear responsibility for this destruction.

ADDED March 16:

Daniel Volman & William Minter: Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa

The government has presented AFRICOM as a cost-effective institutional restructuring and a benign program for supporting African governments in humanitarian as well as necessary security operations. In fact, it represents the institutionalization and increased funding for a model of bilateral military ties — a replay of the mistakes of the Cold War. This risks drawing the United States more deeply into conflicts, reinforcing links with repressive regimes, excusing human rights abuses, and frustrating rather than fostering sustainable multilateral peacemaking and peacekeeping. It will divert scarce budget resources, build resentment, and undercut the long-term interests of the United States

While AFRICOM may be new, there’s already a track record for such policies in programs now incorporated into AFRICOM. That record shows little evidence that these policies contribute to U.S. or African security. To the contrary, there are substantial indications that they are in fact counterproductive, both increasing insecurity in Africa and energizing potential threats to U.S. interests.

I strongly recommend reading Making Peace or Fueling War in Africa.  It provides an overview of the issues that is both clear and thoroughly researched.