Bryan Bender / Boston Globe & Eric Margolis / Digg This – 2007-01-21 09:39:42
Pentagon Plans New Command to Cover Africa
Bryan Bender / Boston Globe
WASHINGTON (December 21, 2006) — President Bush is expected to create a new military command for Africa, for the first time establishing an independent operations headquarters that will focus on anti terrorist operations and humanitarian aid, according to administration officials.
The US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, would oversee strategic developments and military operations across the entire continent, where a combination of problems — natural disasters, civil wars, chronic disease, and the growing presence of Islamic radicals— has destabilized some countries and created an increasing threat to global security, White House and Defense Department aides said.
The Pentagon proposal, which the White House is expected to approve in coming days, is overdue, according to Africa specialists. They cite two examples: the failed state of Somalia, which has become a haven for Islamic militants allied with Al Qaeda terrorists, and the crisis in Sudan, where United Nations figures estimate that more than 400,000 people have died from ethnic cleansing in the Darfur region.
Creating a distinct Africa command “increases the potential that greater attention will be given to issues like Darfur,” said Susan Rice, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“This is a timely move,” added Representative Ed Royce, a California Republican and vice chairman of a House subcommittee that oversees Africa policy. “Africa’s growing strategic importance is clear.”
Currently, the Pentagon has five worldwide command posts; Africa has been the shared responsibility of the Europe, Middle East, and Asian commands, but only as a secondary task. Each post’s primary mission is in another geographic area, and those responsibilities garner far more day-to-day attention and resources.
The Pentagon, which crafted the proposal with the aid of the State Department and other government agencies, envisions the new command to be unique among its global combat headquarters. Because African nations do not pose a direct military threat to the United States, Defense officials said, the AFRICOM operation would focus far less on preparing troops for major combat in the area.
Instead, it would stress military training programs to help local governments secure their borders and take steps to guard against crises such as Darfur as well as contain outbreaks of deadly diseases such as AIDS and malaria .
Unlike in other traditional command posts, the four-star general who would be in charge of AFRICOM would probably have a civilian counterpart from the State Department to coordinate nonmilitary functions of the US government. The expectation is that diplomacy and economic and political aid will often prove more critical to achieving US goals in Africa than relying on military solutions.
The idea for a separate Africa command grew out of a major Pentagon review completed earlier this year. The study concluded that the US military needed to stop domestic security threats before they start by keeping unstable countries around the world from toppling into anarchy.
“The goal is to prevent another Afghanistan,” said Lieutenant Commander Joe Carpenter, a Pentagon spokesman who has been briefed on the proposal. With a dedicated headquarters for Africa, he added, the military would have “an organization that is in a better position to do prevention and better organized so other elements of the US government can interface.”
Africa, Carpenter said, “is very different than what we see in other regions of the world. For many countries, it is simply having a functioning coast guard and police force” that would make the difference between stability or chaos.
Under the Pentagon’s current structure, no one is in charge. The Pentagon’s European headquarters is responsible for much of North, West, and Central Africa all the way to the tip of South Africa. Central Command oversees Egypt, Sudan, the Horn of Africa, and southward to Kenya. The US Pacific Command, meanwhile, has responsibility for Madagascar and other smaller islands off the east coast of Africa.
Their missions, however, often overlap. For example, the European Command is training local military forces in North Africa and the Sahel region — including in Algeria, Mali, and Mauritania — where Islamic militant groups have established new training bases.
Meanwhile, the Central Command, in addition to its duties in Iraq and Afghanistan and the wider Middle East, is also overseeing US military efforts in the Horn of Africa, where Somalia has been overrun by Islamic militants and Al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden has encouraged followers to take up arms.
“The existing system of having Africa divided among three commands is dysfunctional and nonsensical,” said Rice, who served as assistant secretary of defense for African affairs in the Clinton administration.
For decades, Africa had been considered a secondary region when it comes to US interests, but it is quickly growing in strategic importance. Foreign policy specialists cite Sudan, where a US humanitarian mission in the 1990s failed and the government collapsed; they also warn that ongoing civil strife in such nations as the Democratic Republic of Congo could spill over into neighboring countries and create another blood-drenched crisis such as the ongoing one in Darfur.
White House officials wouldn’t say precisely when Bush will approve the proposal and said many details — including the location of the command’s headquarters and the timing for creating it — still had to be worked out.
But Bush’s thinking about how the significance of Africa has expanded was revealed last week at a global health summit sponsored by the White House on eradicating malaria. In working to stabilize Africa, the president said, “we help lift a burden of unnecessary suffering and we help reduce the appeal of radicalism, and we forge lasting friendships on a continent that is growing in strategic importance.”
Somalia: Crusade Number Four
Eric Margolis / Digg This
“The US has opened a fourth front in the war on terrorism” the Pentagon announced last week, as if the US did not have enough failing wars on its hands with al-Qaida, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
In a striking irony, F-18 fighter-bombers from the carrier “USS Eisenhower,” deadly AC-130 gunships from the US base at Djibouti, and Special Forces units attacked Somalia from sea, air and land. Other US units and FBI agents deployed on the Kenya-Somalia border.
As America’s latest foreign war began with air strikes from the giant carrier that bears this great president’s name, no one seemed to recall President Dwight Eisenhower’s magnificent farewell address in 1961 to Americans in which he warned against foreign entanglements and the growing political influence of the military-industrial complex.
Very few Americans understood their nation had just invaded another in an act worthy of the late, unlamented Chairman Leonid Brezhnev.
Much of Somalia has already been occupied by Ethiopia’s powerful, US-financed army which invaded that defenseless nation, with Washington’s blessing, under cover of the Christmas holiday.
It is an open secret in Washington that the Somalia operation is to be the Bush/Cheney Administration’s new model for war against recalcitrant Muslims. The White House failed to convince India or Pakistan to rent their troops for occupation duty in Iraq, but it has succeeded in using Ethiopia’s army in Somalia.
Ethiopia’s repressive regime was only too happy to invade Somalia and received large infusions of aid from Washington. The Administration is duplicating the British Empire’s wide scale use of native troops (“sepoys” in India; “askaris” in East Africa) in colonial wars.
But is Somalia really a “hotbed of terrorism” as Washington claimed? The US-Ethiopian invasion of Somalia was sparked by last fall’s defeat of corrupt Somali clan warlords. They had recently been armed and financed by the CIA to fight the growing popularity of local Islamists.
The warlords had kept Somalia in turmoil and near anarchy for 15 years. Last year, a group of Muslim jurists and notables, the Union of Islamic Courts, managed to defeat the warlords and impose a rough form of law and order on many parts of chaotic central and southern Somalia. Northern Somalia is ruled by a secessionist government based around the strategic port of Berbera.
The conservative Islamic Courts were sympathetic to pan-Muslim causes. But there is no evidence so far that they were involved in anti-American jihadist movements and had no identifiable links, as Washington claimed, to al-Qaida. Now, Somalis are seething with anger at America, providing yet more volunteers for jihadist operations. In fact, the Christmas US-Ethiopian invasion of Somalia threatens to ignite violence across the Horn of Africa.
A handful of African Al-Qaida suspects in the 1998 bombing of US Embassies in East Africa may have been in Somalia, but going to war against a sovereign nation to try to assassinate or capture a handful of suspects is like using a nuclear weapon to kill a gnat and is sure to generate more anti-US violence.
Air strikes by carrier-based US F-18’s and AC-130 gunships killed between 50 and 100 Somali civilians but, apparently, no al-Qaida suspects. The real aim of the US air attacks was to destroy remaining fighting units of the Islamic Courts and clear the way for the US-imposed Somali figurehead government.
The invasion and occupation of defenseless Somalia is the latest – but probably not the last – example of the increasing militarization of US foreign policy. VP Dick Cheney’s new Pentagon golden-haired boys, Special Operations Command, elbowed aside the humiliated CIA and the feckless State Department and vowed to “drain the Islamic swamp” in Somalia.
Thus begins President George Bush’s fourth war against the Muslim World. Invading dirt-poor Somalia is Bush’s last stab at military glory and a final effort to convince disgruntled American voters the so-called “war on terror” is a success.
So also continues Washington’s preference of only invading small nations that cannot offer much initial resistance by conventional forces: Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq and now Somalia. Afghanistan has only 29 million wretched people; Iraq about 26 million – two-thirds of them in rebellion.
The administration is again recklessly charging into a thicket of tribal politics in a remote nation it knows nothing about. US policy in Somalia is being driven by neoconservatives seeking war against the entire Muslim World, and self-serving advice from ally Ethiopia.
Israel, which has maintained close intelligence, military, and economic links to Ethiopia’s regime, is also discreetly involved: it has long conducted covert operations in the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea’s western littoral.
Eritrea’s 1993 secession took away Ethiopia’s natural access to the sea, leaving it landlocked. Ethiopia’s strategic goals in Somalia may be to seize one or more deep-water ports, turn Somalia into a protectorate, and crush any Islamic movements that might enflame its own voiceless Muslims, who comprise half of Ethiopia’s 73 million people.
America’s attack on Somalia recalls Afghanistan. The US is again blundering into ancient clan and tribal conflicts, using foreign troops and local mercenaries to defend a puppet regime without any popular support. US-Ethiopian intervention in Somalia is certain to re-ignite the murderous clan rivalries that brought it to the current state of anarchy.
Like Afghanistan, Somalia was easy to invade, but may prove very difficult to rule, or eventually leave. Many Somalis saw the now scattered Islamic Courts militias as their best hope for stability and normalcy. Now they are back to zero – or worse.
Like Afghanistan after the US invasion in 2001, Somalis have been slow to oppose invasion. But in time they could mount serious resistance to the new US-Ethiopian condominium over Somalia.
From 1899 to 1930, Somali mujahidin waged a fierce resistance struggle against the British, who killed a third of the native population. In 1954, Britain handed the Somali ethnic region of Ogaden to Ethiopia, thus assuring continued hostility between the two old foes.
Now we have a new war, in a faraway place, that could become yet another annoying, intractable headache for the west and yet another incubator of revenge-minded jihadis.
January 16, 2007
Eric Margolis is the contributing foreign editor for Sun National Media Canada, is the author of War at the Top of the World. See his website.
Copyright © 2007 Eric Margolis
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