AFRICOM's regional engagement: designing the right mix of authorities, resources, and personnel.

Author:Schlegel, Charles F.

Editor's Note

The Defense Department's new Africa Command, AFRICOM, represents a major innovation in how the U.S. government will be providing security assistance and managing security cooperation activities in Africa. A new kind of regional military command, focused not on military defense and warfighting but on peacetime military engagement activities promoting development and stability, it is building toward "full operating capability" by October 2008. This article addresses the five 10-15 person regional offices that AFRICOM will soon establish on the continent, including their charter, their operating authorities, their resources, and their personnel. The relationship of these offices to the U.S. embassies in Africa will be of critical importance as AFRICOM evolves.

For other views on AFRICOM, see our article on "Implementing AFRICOM" by Ambassador (ret.) Robert Gribbin and a commentary on that article by Ambassador (ret.) Ed Marks. Also, there is an extensive bibliography at the end of this article.

The authors produced the paper of which this article is an edited version as students in the Joint and Combined Warfighting School, Joint Forces Staff College, Norfolk, VA. It represents their views, not official policy of the College or the U.S. government. --Ed.

In recognition of the growing strategic importance and interconnectedness of Africa to the rest of the world, and that the United States' military engagement with the countries of Africa was not being executed at an optimal level, the Department of Defense (DOD) has begun the process of rapidly activating its latest geographic combatant command (GCC)--Africa Command (AFRICOM). The mission of AFRICOM will be to continue the U.S. military's ongoing work with African militaries and to promote regional stability so that economic and political development can continue. (1) The draft mission statement of AFRICOM is:

US Africa Command promotes US National Security objectives by working with African states and regional organizations to help strengthen stability and security in the Area of Responsibility. US Africa Command leads the in-theater DoD response to support other USG agencies in implementing USG security policies and strategies. In concert with other U.S. government and international partners, US Africa Command conducts theater security cooperation activities to assist in building security capacity and improve accountable governance. As directed, US Africa Command conducts military operations to deter aggression and respond to crises. (2) Unlike other combatant commands, AFRICOM is unique in that it is not primarily focused on responding to military crises. Rather, AFRICOM intends to proactively engage African nations and organizations in an effort to address conditions that if left unresolved could lead to conflict or crises. The creation of five small regional offices spread across the continent is one of the key initiatives AFRICOM is pursuing to allow it to carry out its mission of proactive engagement. These regional offices will work with other U.S. government (USG) agencies, international organizations (IOs), and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to align DOD security cooperation efforts within their assigned regions to overall USG goals. AFRICOM's ability to execute its unique charter is dependent upon having regional offices with the requisite authorities and personnel to obligate DOD resources in support of other government agencies, IOs, and NGOs.

Activating AFRICOM

Activation of any unit entails more than simply identifying a new commander and giving him a flag, headquarters building, and staff. The key milestones of any activation concern the level of functioning capability of that unit, and when that unit reaches, or is scheduled to reach, its initial and, later, its full operating capability. Full operating capability (FOC) means the unit can, at the minimum, accomplish its assigned tasks; it does not imply the unit is at its full manning and readiness posture. AFRICOM reached its initial operating capability on 1 October 2007, and is scheduled to reach FOC on 1 October 2008. The relevance of this discussion of timelines draws upon an old adage: How well you finish depends in large measure on how well you start.

AFRICOM's future success is dependent, to a very large degree, on how effectively it begins. It is with that measure of effectiveness that this paper concerns itself: What is the means by which AFRICOM can most effectively accomplish its assigned tasks through its regional offices?

AFRICOM's primary reason for existence is to improve DOD's engagement with Africa. (3) This is an important point to make precisely because AFRICOM is not designed to optimize the engagement of the USG, writ large, or even that of any of the other departments of the federal government, such as the Department of State. It is important to make this distinction, if for no other reason than to allay the suspicions and concerns that DOD is trying to subsume the roles and responsibilities of the other departments of the federal government. The DOD has recognized that its engagement in Africa is focused primarily on what the joint community refers to as 'Phase 0' activities. These include peacetime military engagement activities designed to establish conditions that support U.S. interests; namely, African states that are secure and stable in their domestic and international relations, promote free and fair participation in their political systems, promote economic growth, and provide greater distribution of economic gains throughout their societies. (4) This is a significantly different purpose than that which necessitated the establishment of previous GCCs, such as Pacific Command (PACOM), European Command (EUCOM), and Central Command (CENTCOM). These GCCs were established to provide for the military defense of vital U.S. interests.

AFRICOM, on the other hand, seeks to 'win the war' before it ever has to fight the war. Principal Deputy Under Secretary of Defense Ryan Henry underscores this point by stating that AFRICOM would be considered a success " ... if it keeps American troops out of Africa for the next 50 years." (5) Additionally, the DOD has recognized that real success in 'Phase 0' activities is dependent upon the active involvement and support of the remainder of the USG's interagency (IA) community--referred to as the 'whole of government' approach. (6) This dependency upon the IA community is reflected in AFRICOM's unique organizational structure and manning, which includes billets for interagency players, to include a permanent deputy commander drawn from the Department of State.

In order to conduct these 'Phase 0' activities, AFRICOM must possess the capability to conduct synchronized, focused, and sustained engagement. Through its Regional Economic Communities, (7) Africa has effectively divided itself into five distinct sub-entities most easily identified by their geographic region--North, South, East, West, and Central Africa. AFRICOM's engagement efforts should mirror Africa's own regional affiliations. Additionally, a forward-deployed regional presence is required, as this engagement effort is dependent upon knowledge and access; the sort of knowledge and access gained only through personal familiarity with the realities of African life and previously established relationships (interpersonal as well as between institutions). For these reasons, AFRICOM envisions the requirement to position a small footprint, 10 to 15 personnel, into each of the five regions to support its engagement efforts. These elements would be known as regional offices and would likely be based at U.S. embassies in each of the five regions.

The reasoning for a small footprint is twofold, because space is at a premium in the embassies and because DOD does not want to mistakenly create the impression that the United States intends to base large forces throughout the African continent. It should be noted that U.S. embassies effectively are small, forward-deployed, interagency-manned elements that conduct activities in African nations and establish lasting interpersonal relationships. An important determinant of AFRICOM's success is how effectively the regional offices and embassies work together towards achieving USG interests.

AFRICOM Regional Offices

AFRICOM's regional offices must have a clear and unique charter; they must possess a value-added capability; and they must be...

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