The past few days have been intellectually bipolar. I spent most of the weekend at the African Studies Association (ASA) Annual Meeting learning from academically-minded colleagues who also specialize in Africa. I also attended some of the panels whose impressive presenters were complemented by their empirically rich research and analysis. The whole exercise was like Africa nerd catnip, and my little gray cells danced for joy.
By Monday, however, I was fully reintegrated into my DC habitat – which I find equally engaging, but in a more policy-focused way. I attended a talk by Commander, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) General Carter Ham on Counterterrorism in Africa. I won’t go over the nuts and bolts of his talk, since you can find coverage of it in the New York Times, Reuters, and a video of the event on CSPAN. Many of his comments also touched on an article published by AFRICOM’s J-5 in Joint Forces Quarterly in October – Going Farther by Going Together: Building Partner Capacity in Africa.
That coverage aside, here’s a few things I found interesting about the event:
- Gen. Ham stated that two recent documents inform AFRICOM’s current engagements: the January 2012 Defense Strategic Guidance (also referred to as Sustaining U.S. Global Leadership: Priorities for 21st Century Defense) and the June 2012 U.S. Strategy Toward Sub-Saharan Africa. He said that just because Africa is only mentioned once in the former does not imply that the U.S. military would not be relevant there. On the contrary, AFRICOM would continue to work with African militaries on the missions mentioned in the document, which include building partner capacity, countering terrorism and WMD proliferation, and conducting humanitarian assistance/disaster relief (HA/DR) operations – among others. Therefore, Gen. Ham argues, African militaries are still key partners in tackling global challenges, although Africa is hardly mentioned in the DSG. True or not, this is a smart way of arguing AFRICOM’s continued relevance in an era of substantial defense budget cuts.
- A possible ECOWAS intervention force in Mali was discussed, with Gen. Ham endorsing the U.S. approach to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) as a model for the international community’s support for African-led solutions. (For more on the U.S. government’s apparent embrace of this model, see testimony by Ambassador Johnnie Carson, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa.)
- Finally, I noticed a strong focus on small footprint theater security cooperation (TSC), which aligns with the direction I see U.S. military TSC in Africa heading. During Q&A, I asked what mission sets the Army’s Regionally-Aligned Brigades would be focused on and what opportunities there might be to leverage interagency skills, expertise, and networks. He responded by thanking me for the set-up question and offering more details on the Chief of Staff of the Army’s concept. As Army forces become more available due to reduced deployments to Afghanistan, Gen. Odierno wants to make forces available to the geographic combatant commanders and has chosen AFRICOM as the pilot. Starting in early in 2013 for one year, AFRICOM will have access to a brigade based in Fort Riley, Kansas for a total of 96 individual engagements in 35 countries. Their primary purpose is to support training and exercises, and if the Combatant Commander wishes to use them for particular operations, they would need permission from the Secretary of Defense. You can find video of my question and Gen. Ham’s response here by forwarding the video to the 1 hour 10 minute mark.