The U.S. Defense Department is reorganizing its efforts in Africa under a unified structure called the Africa Command (AFRICOM). Mike O'Sullivan reports, diplomats, military and academic experts who met in Los Angeles, Friday, say the new command has a broader mandate than just security.
Charles Kosak, who directs African Affairs in the office of the secretary of defense, says the reorganization puts US-Africa military liaisons under one command, as opposed to three in the past. Part of the continent has been under the U.S. Central Command, which also covers Iraq. Part was under the Pacific Command, which is keeping an eye on China, and part was under the European Command. Kosak says the consolidation into a single command for 53 African countries provides focus and eliminates separate jurisdictions for Defense Department programs.
"Let me give you an example - in Sudan, for example," said Mr. Kosak. "Although Sudan falls within the Horn of Africa and is under the area of responsibility of Central Command, it could be frustrating for us in some ways when we wanted to provide advisory assistance to the African Union mission in Darfur in Sudan, we could not achieve that because Central Command was so stretched with its mission in Iraq."
Leaders of the new command, which was inaugurated last year, say they have no plans to put large troop bases in Africa. They add that AFRICOM will not take a leading role in African security, but is there to offer support to African governments and regional organizations, and was designed with an understanding of the ties between security, development and diplomacy. The conference at the University of Southern California explored those ties.
Kosak says AFRICOM includes representatives of U.S. disaster relief and development agencies, such as the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).
"It's simply to have these skill sets in the command so that the USAI rep[resentative] can help the Department of Defense, can help Africa Command, work better with USAID, with its multitude of programs on the continent," he added.
Nicole Lee of the Washington-based TransAfrica Forum, an advocacy group, says there is suspicion of AFRICOM in parts of Africa and skepticism by some Americans. She says the U.S. government was slow to condemn the practice of apartheid in the former South Africa, and that many Africans still question American intentions. She also worries about a shift in the traditional practice of U.S. diplomacy.
"I think the biggest concern with AFRICOM is no one really is clear on what exactly it's going to do," she said. "When the Defense Department is asked regarding the issues that AFRICOM is going to deal with, it sounds a lot like what the State Department is supposed to be involved with and leading on."
Charles Kosak says the State Department and other agencies will take the lead in their areas of responsibility.
Mark Bellamy, a fellow with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, was U.S. ambassador to Kenya from 2003 to 2006. He says the important discussion about AFRICOM's mission and relationship to other agencies is still going on, and the command's effectiveness will depend on those discussions. He says AFRICOM can bring additional resources to African security programs, and help in other ways.
"Especially when we look at things like humanitarian assistance and disaster relief and some other functions," he noted. "So there are a range of things that AFRICOM can do, depending on how its mission is defined, that will enhance, that ought to enhance, our overall diplomatic effort in Africa."
The Defense Department is aware of criticisms, and defense official Ryan Henry told the conference that public diplomacy is part of the mission of the new command. He says the United States is competing in the marketplace of ideas with Islamic jihadists and conspiracy theorists, and others that he says are misinformed about U.S. intentions.
The Africa Command is scheduled to reach full operational status about October of this year, when a full complement of 1,300 personnel will be in place at its interim headquarters at in Stuttgart, Germany. The Defense Department hopes eventually to have regional offices in various parts of Africa.