|Home | Contact us | Links | Archives | Search|
Africa Command Is Operational, But Skepticism Persists
WASHINGTON , Sept 30, 2008 — The US military's Africa Command becomes fully operational on Wednesday, but it still faces skepticism about its intentions as it seeks to provide security assistance to African states.
US defense cooperation and military assistance programs that until now have been scattered among three different commands will be brought together under Africom.
Africom, in concert with international partners, "conducts sustained security engagement through military-to-military programs, military-sponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of US foreign policy," the command's website says.
They include efforts to develop crisis response forces, regional counter-terrorism programs in North Africa , anti-piracy and counter-drug training for regional coast guards, and programs to professionalize African militaries.
When the command was unveiled in 2007, President George W. Bush presented it as a way to channel US aid in Africa . But it still has a number of detractors, both in Africa and the United States .
African opponents of the command fear that Washington wants to spread its military might across Africa to counter the growing economic influence of China and to secure sources of energy supply.
By 2015, a quarter of US oil imports are projected to come from Africa, particularly the Gulf of Guinea off Africa 's western coast.
"US Africa Command is nothing more than a device to ensure that the US oil industry will have unfettered access to Africa 's vast supplies of oil," said Mark Fancher of the US-based National Conference of Black Lawyers.
"If anyone in Africa interferes with US oil operations, we suspect that they will be given the terrorist label and then targeted for military attacks," he said.
In a sign of mistrust of US intentions, several African governments, including Algeria and Nigeria , have refused to host the headquarters of the command.
So instead of being based on the continent, the new command is operating for now from Stuttgart , Germany .
Anxious to reassure Africans, the US military stresses it has no plans to establish large bases in Africa , only to provide military assistance to African countries.
The only permanent base that the United States now has overseas is Camp Lemonier in Djibouti , where about 1,800 US troops are stationed.
Africom, with about 1,300 military and civilian personnel, has also attracted opposition in the United States where some critics regard it as an attempt to militarize US foreign policy.
"State Department and US Agency for International Development officials have expressed concerns that Africom will become the lead for all US efforts in Africa rather than just DoD (Department of Defense) activities," a report by the Government Accountability Office, a congressional audit agency, said in July.
On Wednesday, the House of Representatives slashed more than a third of the 389 million dollars that the Pentagon requested for the new command, in part because it has failed to establish a presence in the continent.
At Africom, officials deny there is a hidden agenda.
"What we hope to do is to work with African nations as they want to do things to better protect their people, their territory and their borders, and help them in support of their objectives," said a senior US military official.