August 3rd, 2007 10:33 EST
Pentagon Official Describes AFRICOM’s Mission, Dispels Misconceptions
U.S. Africa Command’s foremost mission is to help Africans achieve their own security, not to extend the scope of the war on terrorism or secure African resources, a top Pentagon official said.
“The United States spends approximately $9 billion a year in Africa, funding programs in such areas as health, development, trade promotion, and good governance,” Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told members of the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee on Africa and global health here yesterday. “In contrast, security-related programs receive only about $250 million a year.”
AFRICOM will play a supportive role as Africans continue to build democratic institutions and establish good governance across the continent, she said. “Our security cooperation with Africa is one aspect of our collaboration with Africa, but it is a small part of our overall relationship,” she added.
The Defense Department currently divides responsibility for Africa among three combatant commands: European Command, Pacific Command and Central Command. AFRICOM, slated to stand up in October, is a three-pronged defense, diplomatic and economic effort designed to enable U.S. government elements to work in concert with African partners without the “bureaucratic divisions” created by a shared command structure, Whelan said.
“Although this structure is new, the nature of our military engagement on the continent will not change,” she said. “It will remain primarily focused on conducting theater-security cooperation to build partnership capacities in areas such as peacekeeping, maritime security, border security, counterterrorism skills.”
Consolidating leadership under a single command could better support Africa’s multilateral institutions, like the African Union and the regional economic communities, which are playing an enlarged role in the continent’s security affairs, she said.
Whelan addressed the “many misconceptions” about AFRICOM’s structure and purpose.
“Some people believe that we are establishing AFRICOM solely to fight terrorism or to secure oil resources or to discourage China. This is not true,” she said.
Though violent extremism is “a cause for concern and needs to be addressed,” countering this threat is not AFRICOM’s singular mission, she said.
“Natural resources represent Africa's current and future wealth, but in an open-market environment, many benefit,” she continued. “Ironically, the U.S., China, and other countries share a common interest -- that of a secure environment in Africa, and that's AFRICOM's objective.
“AFRICOM is about helping Africans build greater capacity to assure their own security,” she added.
The United States does not seek to compete with or discourage African leadership and initiative, Whelan said. Rather, AFRICOM will benefit it its partners on the continent prevent security issues from escalating without U.S. intervention.
“U.S. security is enhanced when African nations themselves endeavor successfully to address and resolve emerging security issues before they become so serious that they require considerable international resources and intervention to resolve,” she said.
U.S. Africa Command also will support other U.S. agencies in implementing other programs that promote regional stability, Whelan noted, calling AFRICOM an “innovative command.”
Unlike other commands, AFRICOM will be staffed by a large number of State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development members, including a senior foreign service officer to serve as the military commander’s civilian deputy. This deputy will plan and oversee the majority of AFRICOM’s security-assistance work, she said.
“These interagency officers will contribute their knowledge and their expertise to the command so that AFRICOM will be more effective as it works to build peacekeeping, humanitarian-relief and disaster-response capacity in Africa,” she said.
Interagency partners also will identify ways the Defense Department can support other U.S. agencies’ and departments’ initiatives in Africa, including State Department-funded programs. This includes the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program, which Whelan called “the mainstay of the U.S. effort to build peace-support-operations capacity in Africa.”
Overall, the Defense Department will respond to the needs of its African partners, Whelan said. “(The department) will seek to provide support as appropriate and as necessary to help the broader U.S. government national security goals and objectives to succeed,” she said.
By John J. Kruzel
American Forces Press Service