AFRICOM aims to partner with African nations

Apr 3, 2008
Author: Jim Garamone

Another report from the African Conference held outside Washington

by Jim Garamone

Warrenton, Virginia, 30 March, 2008 — US Africa Command (AFRICOM) wants to work in partnership with African nations, and its establishment does not signal the militarisation of US foreign policy, said the organization's commander, Army Gen William E ‘Kip’ Ward.

Ward spoke to representatives from 43 African nations during the US - Africa Defense Policy Dialogue at the Airlie House conference centre south of Washington, DC, on 27 March, 2008.

“I don’t want to take over US foreign policy,” Ward told the gathered African defence experts. “(It's) not my job and quite frankly not the value system I possess.” The general stressed that US civilian leaders make policy, not the military.

Ward called the command an “innovation” in ways to deliver security assistance to African partners. He said the command will only act after listening to what African nations want. The command will maintain a light footprint on the continent, and American officials are not looking to establish bases on the continent.

Security and economic development are two sides of the same coin, Ward said, and African nations understand that. Africa Command is a unique mix of uniformed personnel and interagency civilians that will help Africans provide their own security.

“This construct is designed to address the complexity of trying to bring stability, and we know it’s not a strictly military task,” Ward said.

US Africa Command stood up on 1 October, 2007 and is scheduled to become an independent unified command by 1 October, 2008. It is integrating missions that were the responsibility of three other geographic commands: US European Command, US Central Command and US Pacific Command.

The command, which currently has about 400 military and civilian personnel, is picking up the missions of those three geographic commands while growing to about 1,300 people, said Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, a career State Department employee who serves as the command's deputy for civil-military activities.

“The military is from Mars and we are from Venus, we are from different worlds,” she said. “But when we work together it is clear that the military is not making the foreign policy ... we all are following the US policy. By being integrated in the command, we think we can more effectively support the policies the State Department articulates.”

The command will deliver military assistance and facilitate and support other US and African agencies. The key is “sustained security engagement with our partners,” Yates said. “If you want us to partner with you, we'll be there with you. We want to stay in the military lane, because what we've heard from you is better security and stability in your nations is what is going to bring economic prosperity.”

Yates is one of two co-deputies for Africa Command along side a Navy vice admiral, who is Africa Command's deputy for military operations However, Yates is not the only member of the command from outside Defense Department. The Treasury Department, the US Agency for International Development, the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Agriculture, the Department of Commerce and the Department of Justice all have employees in the command.

The command is bilaterally working with many nations and with pan-African organizations - such as the African Union - to help professionalise their militaries, to help them become more responsive to civilian control and to help them build security. At the core of this is what the command calls active security. This is a concept Ward devised after listening to African leaders.

“When we do something with you that you have asked us to do, you are assured that we're going to be there to help see it through. That's the notion of active security,” he said.

Sustaining security is the long-term goal of the nations and the command. Sustained security “fosters growth ... that doesn't fade in time and can mature in ways that make a difference to you,” Ward said.

“This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon,” the general said. “And we want to establish a relationship so you know we are in it for the long term. It will be sustained, but in ways that make sense to you.”

The command will continue the training and military exercises that the other three geographic commands have in place. It will also work with African nations on plans in case of natural or man-made disasters. AFRICOM will help continental organisations with logistics and with communications - things already being done, Ward said.

US Africa Command is designed to be able to provide that support in a more effective way, the general explained.

“We don't want to control anyone,” Ward said. “We want you to be better able to provide the security that you have said you want to do. We want to help you build your security capacity - we don't want to provide it.”

Ward pointed out that the command wants to support humanitarian assistance efforts, and do it in a way that fosters dialogue and development.

Africa has many problems, the general said, but he believes it can overcome them. The continent will probably “not get to the perfect condition where there are no conflicts,” Ward said, “but does that mean we ought not be working toward that?” - (American Forces Press Service)



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