Merchant of Death
Money, Guns, Planes, and the Man Who Makes War Possible

Blood from Stones

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Africa and Africom Again
NOTE: The trial of former Liberian Charles Taylor resumed today in the Hague. It is an important test of the ability to hold dictators accountable for their actions.

It is also an important part of the struggle against the ability of radical Islamist groups and transnational criminal organizations to fund themselves through failed and failing states. I will try to keep abreast of the most significant developments.


David Ignatius in the Washington Post raised the fundamental question that needs to be addressed about the U.S. military's role in Africa and the role of the new unified command for the continent, AFRICOM.

I have supported AFRICOM and still do. Having the continent divided among three separate commands, with no overlapping abilities to look at regions rather than specific countries, was a prescription for disaster.

The growing terrorist networks, the demonstrated ability of al Qaeda to operate in East and West Africa, and the continued weakening of key states (Kenya being the most recent) demonstrate to me the need for a military command that focuses exclusively on the continent.

But the danger, as Ignatius and others point out, (including the CRS report from May 16, 2007) is that the military is being asked to do what others should be doing, both in terms of overall mission and in terms of combatting radical Islamist terrorism there.

With the cut back in most aid programs, the hardening of embassies and the reduction in personnel there to carry out traditional diplomatic and intelligence gathering and carry out the public diplomacy so desperately needed, the military is left in an untenable quandry.

"The U.S. military is so powerful -- so blessed with money and logistical skill and leadership -- that it's easy to make it the default answer to problems that are otherwise in the "too hard" category. That's my worry about AFRICOM," Ignatius writes.

That is my feeling exactly, and I say it frequently to the military audiences I address. It is an amazing thing to have a military that will take its tasking, no matter how far afield they may seem, and seek to fulfill the mission with competence and dedication.

That is what the U.S. military does. But should its mission include vaccinating cattle, drilling wells, settling land disputes, establishing functioning civilian institutions etc.? My best guess is no. But no one else will take on the jobs. So shovel it over to the military.

The question is, what is AFRICOM's tasking to be? There is still no clear-cut mission statement that one can hang on to. There is nothing worse than an ill-defined mission to ensure that nothing gets done.

According to the CRS report:

As defined by the Department of Defense (DOD), AFRICOM’s mission will be to promote U.S. strategic objectives by working with African states and regional organizations to help strengthen stability and security in the region through improved security capability, military professionalization, and accountable governance. The command’s military operations would aim to deter aggression and respond to crises.

But what does that mean on the ground? How would Kenya policy and reaction have been different if AFRICOM were up and running? Would U.S. troops stand by, work with NGOs to strengthen civil society? Train troops for possible repressive actions?

It is clear the AFRICOM footprint will have to be small. There is too much controversy on the continent for any country to be able to accept anything else and survive politically.

What that footprint is designed to do is of utmost importance. Before the command is up and running, those core questions need to be answered at the highest level.

Otherwise, we risk putting the already-overstretched military in another situation where mission creep will make their job mission impossible.

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