TCS Daily


Back to Africa

By Richard Weitz - January 11, 2007 12:00 AM

The U.S. military intervention in the Somali civil war may finally induce the Pentagon to establish a dedicated African Command (AFCOM). The ongoing air strikes against al-Qaeda targets in southern Somalia and the deployment of the USS Dwight D Eisenhower off the country's coast highlight the urgency of ending the dysfunctional U.S. approach toward the continent's security.

Under the existing Unified Command Plan, the Pentagon divides responsibility for African affairs among three of its five geographic combatant commands. U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM), currently preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, is charged with promoting U.S. security interests in Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan. The Pacific Command (PACOM), whose attention falls primarily on East Asia, is responsible for Madagascar and the Indian Ocean islands off Africa's east coast. The European Command (EUCOM) is charged with monitoring security developments throughout the rest of Africa. Traditionally, its deputy commander has prime responsibility for addressing African security developments.

Establishing an independent command for Africa would overcome the difficulties that now result when security issues transcend the areas of responsibility assigned to the existing commands. The present patchwork developed during the early Cold War. At the time, the U.S. government subordinated African security concerns to those of other regions, especially Western Europe, whose governments still exercised colonial control over many African nations.

Today, the Pentagon needs an AFCOM to counter the new terrorist threats that have emerged in Africa since the Cold War ended. From their safe haven in Sudan, Al-Qaeda operatives established a considerable presence on the continent in the mid-1990s. They exploited this base of operations to launch several major attacks against American, European, Israeli, and other targets in Africa. On August 7, 1998, al-Qaeda organized the coordinated bombings of the U.S. Embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. The recent U.S. air strikes in Somalia sought to target some of the perpetrators behind that attack, including its alleged mastermind, Fazul Abdullah Mohammed. On November 28, 2002, al-Qaeda members successfully bombed the Israeli-owned Paradise Hotel in Mombasa, Kenya. On the same day, they nearly shot down an Israeli airliner taking off from Mombasa airport using a surface-to-air missile.

In recent months, al-Qaeda came close to reestablishing a state-sponsored sanctuary on the continent. The recently defeated government of the Islamic Courts Union in Somalia appeared to be establishing ties with al-Qaeda that resembled those that emerged between the Islamic terrorists and the governments of Sudan and Afghanistan during the 1990s.

Besides more effectively addressing the terrorist presence, an AFCOM would also help secure other U.S. interests on the continent. Africa lies at the crossroads of several transnational security threats. These challenges include drug trafficking from South America, human and diamond trafficking into Europe, potential pandemic disease outbreaks, and widespread illegal fishing and pollution. The continent also has important economic resources such as timber, iron ore, copper, diamonds, and oil. The United States already imports approximately 15 percent of its hydrocarbon-based energy sources (liquid natural gas and petroleum) from Africa. Forecasters expect this figure could double in the next decade, exceeding energy imports from the Middle East.

Finally, traditional geopolitical concerns also require improving the U.S. military's approach toward the African theater. Although the Soviet threat has vanished, China has increased its presence. In recent years, Beijing has made strenuous exertions to secure access to the continent's energy and other natural resources. Chinese investments in Africa have soared, especially in the energy sector. Today, sub-Saharan Africa supplies almost 30 percent of China's oil. In addition, China has become the second largest supplier of conventional weapons to sub-Saharan Africa. Chinese military advisers are assisting many African armed forces, while over 1,000 Chinese troops are involved in seven UN-sponsored peacekeeping operations on the continent.

It is to be hoped that AFCOM will lead the Defense Department to adopt a more proactive posture toward regional threats in Africa. Undistracted by problems in other regions, an AFCOM staff would cultivate in-depth knowledge of African issues and deeper ties with African militaries. By increasing the continent's visibility within the U.S. defense community, an AFCOM could also encourage more military personnel to specialize in African security issues, thereby leading to better-informed policy decisions. Although a fully independent command for Africa would most effectively accomplish these objectives, even a sub-regional command that enjoyed substantial autonomy under an existing geographic command would be preferable to the current hodgepodge.

Richard Weitz is a Senior Fellow at the Hudson Institute.


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8 Comments

out of Africa
Good article, but still it might be better for the US to get out, and outsource the fighting to guys like the Ethiopians. When those guys went thru the places in a few days, we heard nothing of civilizans killed, mosques violated, prisoners taken to be well fed then realeased again, insults to the dignity of the enemy trying to kill you, etc. Since the Ethiopians are not white people then can get away with really fighting without being hobbled like the Americans always are. So liberals won't dare criticize them, even though they are Christians. This could be the perfect solution. I guess they could even learn to use the impressive 'puff the magic dragon' the Americans have on their C-130s.

good point
As Dietmar has said, the U.S. Armed Forces are subject to criticism from media sources around the world. In many media markets, anti-American viewpoints sell. In other media markets, views that discourage military intervention are common. The extent of U.S. military operations is determined by the President. As commander-in-chief, the President has direct control over the amount of damage the Armed Forces inflict upon the enemy. The president decides, if a military operation should avoid killing some enemy combatants to prevent bad publicity. If a new U.S. President enters office, his or her policies might differ from those of the previous administration.

With regard to Africa, the rule of law would be better under an outside authority. Africans will state otherwise, but the fact is: an outside authority could rule Africans more effectively. An outside authority would work to prevent the bloodshed too common throughout Africa. A form of democracy could develop in Africa, but criteria would be necessary. Again, an outside authority would be needed to enforce those criteria.

And who is this outside authority?
The U.N.? Get real! The U.S. won't even act as an outside authority in Iraq.

Wait...Charles...
Outside authority? Whatever are you saying? That the white people (or some such non-Africans) should impose themselves on a sovereign people because...there is something self-destructive about their cultures? Or are you saying something about their genetics?

I am not all that convinced that a reorganization of our military command structure regarding an entire continent (as if it is not simply another part of global society) will lead us to be more effective working with them...But you seem to be implying the reinstitution of colonial rule. Is that correct?

The larger problems (in lots of places, including Africa)seem to be tribalism and poor people. We have assumed that tribal behavior is counter-productive because we have, throughout the history of civilization and military imperialism, assembled larger societies by forcing smaller societies to give up their cultures and to be homogenized into our new nations. And then when we give them freedom we tell them they must not revert to their natural tribal cultures but must embrace democracy. Whether or not 49.8% of the population could ever stand to be ruled by 50.2% of them.

We call the resulting rejection of democracy and the necessary struggle for cultural identity and survival a civil war and we tend to take sides. But this process is only civil war because because it occurs inside the sovereign borders of a nation that we created and literally drew as a line on a map over cigars and brandy.

We need to keep people from killing each other. But our insistence on democracy and this demonizing of normal human biology (tribalism) is making matters worse.

Partitioning a nation that is actually hundreds of small cultures into Indian and Pakistan did not really work out all that well either, did it?

Therefore, we need to reassess our assumptions without prejudice, stop venal stupidity when we can, help people create enough wealth that they have something to lose by taking up arms, and (for God's sake) stop with the racism, Charles.

Let me say this about that!
I didn't say the infrastructure was in place for an outside authority to maintain order in Africa. For example, the U.S. spends more money on it's military than the next ten nations combined. A big story on the news is about the controversial troop surge to establish order in Baghdad- that's only one city. The African continent is much larger than one city.

The technology required to maintain order in Africa can be manufactured. I'm sure most people disagree with the above statement, but automation is the answer. So I'm including a couple of paragraphs about unmanned aerial vehicles. Most of the information about UAV's has been previously posted on TCS by yours truly, but I would like the readers to review it because it is a cornerstone of my plan for an invasion of Africa.

The unmanned aerial vehicles currently used in Iraq and Afghanistan are effective armnaments, but very expensive. Smaller UAV's can be mass produced by machines. UAV's consisting of composite materials, aluminum motors; and partially filled with hydrogen or helium can improve the capability of the coalition forces in Iraq. These unmanned drones can remain in flight for long periods of time, since lighter than air gases add lift.

Mass producing UAV's with fully-automated machines is not as difficult as people might think. All of the parts required to build a UAV can be made from raw materials with the exception of purchased electronic parts. New machines are built to make the fabricated parts from raw materials. A series of machines can assemble the plane from fabricated and purchased parts. The planes are combat-ready right off the assembly line. This system of fully-automated mass production can produce high quantities of electromechanical assemblies very quickly, and very economically.

Heady thoughts
Forest-- This is one post where I really agree with you. A good way to characterise the present world situation is to see it as a showdown between those forces who want minority representation and basic human rights protections within an orderly political process, and those who want an absolutist rule of the minorities by the more powerful force.

Nearly every nation is a pluralistic society-- very few countries other than Japan have no ethnic, religious or political minorities squabbling for their share of the pie. Are they to be ruled by the strongest faction? Or by some peaceful parliamentary process, that can enable them to prosper in a harmonious environment?

Somalia today is an exact replay of Afghanistan in 1996. Interminable civil wars with no resolution in sight have given way to the rise of Wahhabi fundamentalists, who promise to kill everyone's good time but to put an end to the fighting at gunpoint.

The Afghans mostly saw it as a better deal than continuing the chaos, so they went with the Taliban. Somalia has too many interested parties next door. So the strongest of them-- an Ethiopia supplied with modern weaponry-- put a quick stop to the putsch.

The problem with the American presence is that we aren't very good at enabling such tribal societies to discover their own paths toward enlightened, pluralistic self government. Instead we tell them how they should live. And from their vantage point, the only answer to an aggressive brand of American neoliberal colonialism is old fashioned Koran-thumping fundamentalism. In Iraq, sadly, we have become only the most powerful of the current warring tribes.

Neither approach, colonial oppression or fundamentalist revolt, brings anyone toward the desired condition, a stable society where everyone is tolerated, their rights protected and their political views not punishable by death.

If one side is winning you get Taliban rule. And if the other side is winning you get chaos and interminable civil war. Someone needs to get working on imagining a third path.

Ideology is a major force governing the affairs of men, and the first person to put a convincing concept to paper that addresses this dilemma becomes our next Marx-- or our next Milton Friedman.

The invasion of Africa
This is an ambitiously zany plan-- I mean audacious! bold!

Let's build flotillas of UAVs and rain death from the skies upon Africa, so the savage blackamoors all bow down and swear fealty to the Masters. It's a replay of 19th century gunboat diplomacy.

FYI, most corporate investors in Africa's mineral wealth-- the only wealth there they deem worth the taking-- find it far cheaper just to supply guns to local warlords, maintaining a perpetual status quo of stateless areas, and primal law. That way they don't have to pay anyone for the mineral wealth they take out.

That cell phone in your hand? It's only made possible by secure supplies of cheap col-tan ores from the perenially ungovernable eastern Congo.

And what makes the place ungovernable? The producers and sellers of col-tan.

Bombing everyone with UAVs may only cost a million dollars a toy, but it adds up when you calculate the many millions of Africans to be thusly conquered.

Why not just let market mechanisms operate? At an expenditure of only a few shiploads of small arms, distributed among each of the warring tribes, the wealth of Africa can be extracted neatly and (for us, anyway) painlessly.

Here's a good spot
I'm much more comfortable here.

Anyway, you were saying the impact feature at the Permian-Triassic boundary might be the same as the Siberian Traps. But no-- they would now be on opposite side of the globe. The continents have moved around, and you would want to consult a map of the continents back then to see how close they were, but Gondwanaland was basically the southern continent, and Siberia was a much smaller northern continental shield. The impact took place in eastern Antarctica.

We can carry on the conversation more easily here if you like-- I don't have the patience to deal with the old thread any longer.

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