by Major Arnold Hammari. He is a U.S. Army Foreign Area Officer specializing in Sub-Saharan Africa who has worked at the U.S. embassies in Senegal, Uganda, and Chad as well as U.S. Africa Command and Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa.
U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established in 2007 in order to oversee U.S. military operations and engagement on the African continent. AFRICOM was designed and manned differently than other geographic combatant commands such as U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) in order to give AFRICOM a greater focus on working with the interagency and non-military entities in Africa.
This interagency emphasis radiates from the top leadership of AFRICOM, which has two deputy commanders: a three-star Deputy to the Commander for Military Operations and a senior Ambassador as the Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Engagements. In addition U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) supplies to the command a Senior Developmental Advisor responsible for providing advice related to development, stabilization, reconstruction, and humanitarian assistance. Ten other U.S. agencies are also represented at the command and collaborate on activities on the African continent.
History of African Collaboration
The U.S. has a long history of engagement with Africa, starting with Morocco being one of the first countries to recognize the newly independent United States of America in 1786. The earliest account of the U.S. military working with coalition partners in Africa is during the Barbary Wars from 1801-1805 when U.S. Marines along with European allies fought the Barbary States of northern Africa. Other instances of Americans and coalition partners working together in Africa are the establishment of Liberia in 1822 with blacks freed from slavery in the western hemisphere and the invasion of Northern Africa during World War II.
Prior to the Combined Joint Task Force — Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA), the largest U.S. engagement in Africa was in Somalia from 1992-1994 first as Operation PROVIDE RELIEF then later as Operation RESTORE HOPE and Unified Task Force (UNITAF) in conjunction with NATO and African partners. After transitioning to the United Nations mission UNOSOM II in 1993 the coalition was joined by Indian and Pakistani troops. U.S. troops departed in 1994 and the UNOSOM II mission was terminated in 1995.
The largest current American force in Africa, CJTF-HOA began operations in Djibouti in 2002 as an operation combined with international partners to combat piracy in the waters near Somalia. The mission of CJTF-HOA has evolved to countering violent extremist organizations in East Africa. This includes supporting African Union (AU) troops in their efforts to stabilize Somalia in order to allow for the establishment of a Somali national government.
The mission of AFRICOM is to “along with partners, disrupt and neutralize transnational threats, protect U.S. personnel and facilities, prevent and mitigate conflict, and build African partner defense capability and capacity in order to promote regional security, stability, and prosperity” (Thomas D. Waldhauser, “Advance Policy Questions for Lieutenant General Thomas D. Waldhauser, United States Marine Corps Nominee for Commander, U. S. Africa Command“, 21.06.2016, p. 1). The U.S. strategic objectives in Africa are to “(1) strengthen democratic institutions; (2) spur economic growth; (3) advance peace and security; and (4) promote opportunity and development” (Waldhauser, p. 6).
Another AFRICOM key mission is to develop the Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief capacity of African nations. U.S. National Guard units have been paired with select African partner nations to share expertise and train African disaster relief workers in the State Partnership Program. U.S. efforts in 2014-2015 during the West African Ebola outbreak were initially spearheaded by AFRICOM, with more than 2,800 U.S. military personnel deploying to West Africa or in support of the mission. International partnership with the EU, WHO, UNHCR and many other non-U.S. government organizations was key to the success of this endeavor.
Another essential effort for AFRICOM is combat operations within the AFRICOM area of responsibility: “along with regional partners, U.S. Africa command conducts military operations to disrupt, degrade and neutralize violent extremist organizations that present a transnational threat”.
AFRICOM is currently conducting operations in Somalia in support of the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) and in Libya. U.S. military forces are also deployed in the Lake Chad region to provide assistance to the counter-Boko Haram missions.
Until end of March 2017, U.S. forces were deployed to Central Africa as part of Operation OBSERVANT COMPASS in support of counter-Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) efforts. This operation has dramatically weakened the LRA in numbers and overall effectiveness. Where the group once boasted nearly 2,000 fighters, efforts of the African security forces, with U.S. advice and assistance, have reduced the group’s active membership to be estimated under 100. While its leader Joseph Kony remains in hiding, the African Union-led Regional Task Force has captured four of the five key LRA leaders. As a result of this success, Operation OBSERVANT COMPASS will remove U.S. military forces specifically focused on counter-LRA and transition to broader scope security and stability activities.
An additional AFRICOM mission is to respond to crisis in Africa, as demonstrated last year with the evacuation of the U.S. Embassy, Americans, and others in South Sudan. AFRICOM works closely with the U.S. Embassies to monitor the security situation and provide assistance as requested by the Ambassadors. If requested AFRICOM will launch an operation to provide assistance.
Working with international partners is key to U.S. efforts in Africa. AFRICOM provides assistance to the French Operation BARKHANE in the Sahel-Maghreb as well as with the Multi-National Joint Task Force in the Lake Chad Basin against Boko Haram. The Multinational Cooperation Center (MNCC) at AFRICOM Headquarters attempts to synchronize U.S. and international efforts by military forces on the African continent. The MNCC comprises liaison officers from Germany, France, UK, Denmark, Spain, Turkey, Japan, Korea, Australia, and New Zealand. There is also a liaison officer from the European Union and the African Union has been invited to send a representative to the AFRICOM headquarters. The MNCC also works with the United Nations and NATO.
An additional group of international liaison officers is hosted by CJTF-HOA in Djibouti that involves AMISOM troop contributing countries as well as their non-African partners. African liaison officers from Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda work to synchronize combat and support operations to neutralize al-Shabab in Somalia. Many of the same countries that have liaison officers at the AFRICOM headquarters also have representatives at CJTF-HOA.
While AFRICOM is the recipient of liaison officers that its Headquarters it sends liaison officers to the African Union, European Union, and the African regional communities such as the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). In each individual country the Senior Defense Official / Defense Attaché at the U.S. Embassy has responsibility for coordinating bilateral military to military relations and engagements.
The Senior Defense Official also works with other Defense Attaches from other nations to synchronize efforts in support of the African host nation. This has been increasingly important as budgets for foreign engagement have decreased across most governments despite the increase in domestic threat from foreign-based threats. Some like-minded nations that face similar threats and share common security outcomes regionally are collaborating with U.S. forces. For example, in 2013 U.S. and French forces worked together to train the Chadian unit that deployed to Mali under MINUSMA. Multiple nations contribute in Uganda each year to train the units that deploy to Somalia.
Exercises are another security force assistance effort where U.S. and international partners have teamed up to develop African military forces. A prime example of international cooperation is with the annual Exercise FLINTLOCK (see video below), where U.S. and international special operations teams are paired with African special operations teams to conduct simulated operations.
The maritime exercises OBANGAME EXPRESS (focusing on the Gulf of Guinea), CUTLASS EXPRESS, and PHOENIX EXPRESS (both with a changing regional focus) involve as many international partners that would like to participate. African partners bring their own boats or may find themselves working with American, Danish, French or other nations on their boats.
The land-based ACCORD series of exercises also combine U.S., African, and other international partners in conducting simulated operations. For example the 2014 Exercise CENTRAL ACCORD combined troops from Cameroon, Burundi, Chad, Gabon, Nigeria, the Republic of Congo, Netherlands, and the U.S. military. Exercise SOUTHERN ACCORD involves African nations from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) as well as other international partners.
Exercise AFRICAN ENDEAVOR tests the interoperability of communications equipment across the continent. This is a key exercise as African armies bring their own communications equipment to peacekeeping operations and need to be able to communicate across diverse brands of manufacture. Exercise AFRICAN ENDEAVOR usually involves participants the U.S., Canada, the Netherlands, the African Union, NATO, the European Union, and regional economic communities.
Ongoing International Cooperation
International cooperation and collaboration in Africa is primarily highlighted through ongoing operations in Libya and Somalia. Cooperation with U.S. and NATO partners is increasingly coupled with expanding new partnerships Middle and Far Eastern countries. These emerging security actors are contributing troops, logistics support, funding, and training. As combat operations slowly draw down in Libya, another combined joint task force similar to CJTF-HOA in Djibouti may be necessary to assist in the stabilization of the region as jihadists and fighters displaced from Libya seek to disrupt other less governed spaces. AFRICOM, as per its mission statement, will continue to seek to work with partners “in order to promote regional security, stability, and prosperity”.