… the command doesn’t evaluate the effects of these programs. Its rapid personnel turnover rate, at times as little as 4 months, lead to cultural missteps, and difficulties tracking projects.

TANGA, Tanzania - Tanga Regional Commissioner Said Said Kalembo (right) and U.S. Ambassador to Tanzania Alfonso Lenhardt pump water from a newly-constructed well at Putini-Chonoleani Village, March 9, 2010. This is one of six wells that was constructed by Tanzanian contract company Hydrotech and financed by the U.S. government. (Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Tyler Wilson, CJTF-HOA)

MORONI, Comoros - Petty Officer 2nd Class Craig Kleffel and Petty Officer 2nd Class Duncan Keller assigned to Naval Mobile Construction Battalion begin constructing the Hamramba Primary School in Moroni on the East African island nation of Comoros, November 20, 2009. NMCB 3 is deployed to Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa. (Photo by Petty Officer 1st Class Jonathan Kulp, CJTF-HOA)

Military Still Fumbling Humanitarian Projects

The U.S. military has been conducting development-like activities in Africa regularly since the Pentagon stood up the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) in 2002 – and we’re still building white elephants.

Today the Government Accountability Agency released a report evaluating CJTF-HOA’s activities, finding that though most of its activities revolved around “civil affairs projects such as community medical care and bridge construction,” the command doesn’t evaluate the effects of these programs. Its rapid personnel turnover rate, at times as little as 4 months, lead to cultural missteps, and difficulties tracking projects.

Recently CJTF-HOA discovered they had previously built a school only to lose track of it, now finding that it had fallen into disrepair. On another occasion a well had been constructed but the local community hadn’t been trained to maintain it. CJTF-HOA has now added to its internal program nomination form a description of who will maintain the project in the long-term. Again, CJTF-HOA has been stationed in Djibouti since 2003.

The report itself is a one page document:

DOD Needs to Determine the Future of Its Horn of Africa Task Force (PDF)

Why GAO Did This Study

Originally established in 2002 to fight terrorism, the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), based at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, is the military’s main operational presence in Africa. The U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), created in 2007 to focus on stability in Africa, has been assessing existing activities—as well as CJTF-HOA—against its mission of sustained security engagement in Africa. This report discusses: (1) AFRICOM’s decisions on CJTF-HOA’s future and whether CJTF-HOA’s activities align with the command’s mission, and (2) benefits of the task force and challenges it faces. For its review, GAO analyzed AFRICOM and CJTF-HOA guidance, conducted interviews at the command’s and task force’s headquarters, and obtained perspectives from U.S. embassies in the region.

What GAO Found

AFRICOM has been evaluating CJTF-HOA, but it has not yet made decisions on the future of the task force—including whether CJTF-HOA should continue to exist as a joint task force, and if so, whether changes are needed to the task force’s mission, structure, and resources to best support the command’s mission of sustained security engagement in Africa. AFRICOM officials said that decisions are pending but did not share details of their evaluation or provide a target date for decisions. Since the task force moved under AFRICOM, its status has not changed significantly. As of March 2010, CJTF-HOA had about 1,650 personnel. The Navy continues to fund the majority of its approximately $80 million budget as well as most of Camp Lemonnier’s $238 million budget. The task force’s activities have evolved over the years to focus on building relationships and fostering stability; for example, about 60 percent of its activities are civil affairs projects, such as community medical care and bridge construction. Other activities include military-to-military activities, peace support operations, personnel recovery, and counter-piracy activities. However, CJTF-HOA is currently not performing long-term follow up on activities to determine whether they are having their intended effects or whether modifications are needed to best align with AFRICOM’s mission. Additionally, the task force is generally not setting specific, achievable, and measurable goals for activities. Some activities, such as military-to-military efforts, appear to support AFRICOM’s mission. Others, such as a school built by CJTF-HOA but later found dilapidated, could have unintended consequences. Without long-term assessments of activities, it is difficult for AFRICOM to determine the effectiveness of CJTF-HOA, which is critical for overall planning efforts and decisions on the task force’s future.
CJTF-HOA’s force presence in the Horn of Africa provides several benefits, but the task force also faces challenges carrying out activities. CJTF-HOA’s presence in Africa offers benefits such as its ability to respond to contingencies, provide forces for AFRICOM activities, and build U.S.-African relationships. However, the task force’s sustainability is uncertain because AFRICOM, in concert with the Department of Defense or the Navy, has not developed options for funding the task force over the long term. It currently relies on overseas contingency operations appropriations, and GAO has previously encouraged that the projected costs of such ongoing operations be included in the military’s base budget requests. Moreover, task force staff have made cultural missteps because they did not understand local religious customs and may have unintentionally burdened embassies that must continuously train new staff on procedures. These problems may be exacerbated by limited training and compounded by short tour lengths (generally 4-12 months). Should AFRICOM opt to retain the task force, addressing challenges associated with long-term funding and staff skills would help ensure that it is effectively supporting U.S. efforts in Africa with the appropriate resources and trained personnel.

What GAO Recommends

GAO recommends that AFRICOM, as part of its planning efforts, complete its evaluation of CJTF-HOA and determine the task force’s future. If the Department of Defense determines that sustaining the task force is consistent with its goals, GAO recommends long-term activity assessments, a funding plan, and training guidance for the task force. The Department of Defense generally agreed with the recommendations.

This rather confirms my view that the Africa Command’s humanitarian projects are primarily photo op projects to put a humanitarian face on the Africa Command’s frenzied efforts to militarize and disrupt the continent.  The soldiers who are working on humanitarian projects are probably optimistic about them, but since there is no staff continuity due to turnover, once finished the projects are forgotten. This is bumper sticker humanitarianism, random acts of kindness with no purpose and no follow through.   The only comprehensive and inclusive US development plan is to develop local militaries to proxy for the US.  Plus, the cost of military installations and operations needs to be in the budget and visible to US voters.

Meanwhile, forget humanitarian:

WASHINGTONThe top American commander in the Middle East has ordered a broad expansion of clandestine military activity in an effort to disrupt militant groups or counter threats in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Somalia and other countries in the region, according to defense officials and military documents.

The secret directive, signed in September by Gen. David H. Petraeus, authorizes the sending of American Special Operations troops to both friendly and hostile nations in the Middle East, Central Asia and the Horn of Africa to gather intelligence and build ties with local forces. Officials said the order also permits reconnaissance that could pave the way for possible military strikes in Iran if tensions over its nuclear ambitions escalate.

… Its goals are to build networks that could “penetrate, disrupt, defeat or destroy” Al Qaeda and other militant groups, as well as to “prepare the environment” for future attacks by American or local military forces, the document said. …

Officials said that many top commanders, General Petraeus among them, have advocated an expansive interpretation of the military’s role around the world, arguing that troops need to operate beyond Iraq and Afghanistan to better fight militant groups.

The order, which an official said was drafted in close coordination with Adm. Eric T. Olson, the officer in charge of the United States Special Operations Command, calls for clandestine activities that “cannot or will not be accomplished” by conventional military operations or “interagency activities,” a reference to American spy agencies.

While the C.I.A. and the Pentagon have often been at odds over expansion of clandestine military activity, most recently over intelligence gathering by Pentagon contractors in Pakistan and Afghanistan, there does not appear to have been a significant dispute over the September order.

Unlike covert actions undertaken by the C.I.A., such clandestine activity does not require the president’s approval or regular reports to Congress, although Pentagon officials have said that any significant ventures are cleared through the National Security Council.

More than ever the Department of Defense, not the State Department, perhaps not even the President, is creating and running US foreign policy.  Most African countries would like to be friends with the US.  But the US is treating them all like enemies or potential enemies or dupes to be manipulated and used against each other.  Clandestine disruption and destruction operations that are not subject to review and approval of the President or the Congress, or not even reported to them, create enormous risk for the United States and its citizens both at home an abroad.  No amount of random humanitarian photo ops will change that.  Actions that impact the lives and safety of US citizens need the review of elected officials who will ultimately have to face the voters they represent.  Without that, you don’t have democracy, and you are well on your way to military government.