US Africa Command Helps Continent Become More Stable
The United States Africa Command is the newestgeographically-focused organization in the U.S.military. The command was set up to follow eventsaffecting a whole continent — Africa. While thecontinent is huge, the Africa Command is small. It hasonly one base in Africa, while its headquarters is inGermany.
The command carries out hundreds of operationsevery year in an effort to make Africa more secure.
Africa Command is known as AFRICOM. It was created less than 10 yearsago. Before 2007, U.S. military activities in Africa were directed byEuropean Command, Central Command and Pacific Command. Thosemilitary groups were set up to follow developments in Europe, the MiddleEast and Pacific Ocean countries.
AFRICOM’s only base in Africa is in the small nation of Djibouti. The CentralCommand once used the base because of its closeness to Yemen.
Pat Barnes is a spokesman for the Africa Command. He says AFRICOMdecided not to build a new base in Africa.
“When AFRICOM was stood up, one of the key components of it standingup was we would have something called a very small footprint. Given thehistory and colonialism and things, you maybe wouldn’t want to have alarge standing presence on the continent.”
Mr. Barnes says the command is working to help African nations improvetheir ability to defend against attack. He says AFRICOM takes part inhundreds of military exercises with African government forces every year. He says the U.S. military teaches things like how to load large aircraft andhow to operate under the control of a civilian government.
Millions of people in Africa are on guard against violence and threats ofviolence by extremists. The threats come from al-Shabab militants inSomalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria and al-Qaida-linked groups in northernMali.
Mr. Barnes says AFRICOM has just three people in Somalia and a fewmore in Nigeria to support intelligence-sharing and logistics. Critics say anation as powerful as the United States should do more to help. But Mr.Barnes says it is not that simple, because AFRICOM will only send itstroops to places that ask for help.
“We will only send people where they are requested, so it’s not like we cango in and make our own requests.”
Dan Hampton teaches security at the Africa Center for Strategic Studies, amilitary research center at Fort McNair in Washington, DC. He says it is noteasy for Nigerian officials to ask for foreign support against what theyconsider an internal or Nigerian problem. But he thinks that will soonchange.
“I think there is going to be an opportunity now with the elections over. Ithink and I hope you’ll see more and better cooperation between Nigeriaand the U.S. in tackling this problem in the near future.”
Because AFRICOM is such a small command, it recently worked with themuch larger U.S. European Command to develop a plan to quickly shareforces.
General Philip Breedlove leads the European Command, also known asEUCOM. He calls the plan a model for the future of the U.S. military.
“So literally, just about everything in EUCOM and just about everything inAFRICOM can be shared left and right if we have to do that.”
General Breedlove says the size and structure of the force could becomean issue in the future. He notes Russia’s increased aggression, and anearly 300% increase in U.S. military activities in Africa over the past eightyears.
“I think it is fair to say that we probably ought to look at that force structureand see if it’s now adequate to the task that both AFRICOM and EUCOMplace on it.”
U.S. officials say the partnership between AFRICOM and African nationswill continue to grow. Because of these ties, they believe the continent willbecome more stable, secure and prosperous.