|Photo Credit:American Forces Press Service|
Credit: American Forces Press Service
Dotting the African continent are
promising examples of the capable, professional military forces U.S. Africa
Command is working to promote.
As Tunisia spawned what became known
as the Arab Spring in December 2010, its military opposed then-President Zine
El Abidine Ben Ali’s order to use force against the pro-democracy protesters
who ultimately brought down his regime.
The Ugandan army has become a
professional force and plays a key role in advancing regional peace and
security, conducting humanitarian operations at home while contributing
thousands of troops to counterterrorism and peacekeeping efforts in neighboring
Uganda is also among four African
nations -- also including South Sudan, Central African Republic and the
Democratic Republic of Congo -- that have come together to fight the Lord’s
Resistance Army, one of Africa’s most violent and persistent rebel groups which
has brutalized civilians in the region for a quarter-century.
Meanwhile, Uganda, Burundi and
Djibouti are contributing forces under the banner of the African Union Mission
in Somalia, or AMISOM, to help Somalia deal with the al-Shabab terrorist
organization that threatens its transitional government.
And in Liberia -- a nation long
wracked by civil war and instability -- the military once discredited as the
puppet of former president and convicted war criminal Charles Taylor has become
a respected organization under the direction of the democratically elected
Officials at Africom, the United
States’ newest combatant command focused on Africa, see these and other
developments as a sign of positive trends they’re helping to shape on the
Strengthening the defense
capabilities of African countries and encouraging them to work together to
confront common security threats and challenges has been a cornerstone of
Africom’s work since its standup in 2008.
Africom has been instrumental in
supporting other promising developments, Army Maj. Gen. Charles J. Hooper,
Africom’s director of strategy, plans and programs, told American Forces Press
Service. “We see increasing trends toward democracy, rule of law and respect
for human rights,” he said. “And I think Africom has played a very positive
role in supporting those trends.”
Hooper pointed to the role U.S.
military advisors and mentors have played in rebuilding the Armed Forces of
Liberia through a five-year, State-Department funded Africom program known as
Operation Onward Liberty. For the past two years, Marine Forces Africa has led
the joint Marine-Army-Air Force effort aimed at helping professionalize the
Liberian military and ensuring it's able to defend the country’s borders and
come to the aid of its neighbors if needed.
“This small training and education
mission [is] focused on developing a cohesive Liberian armed force,” said
Hooper. “I saw our Operation Onward Liberty mentors assisting them in
everything from [establishing] a fair military justice system and teaching the
military police to serve, to working in the clinics, all the way to assisting
the young soldiers in the Liberian army who volunteered and started an
elementary school on their base,” he said.
Particularly encouraging, he said, was
the Liberian military’s new focus on internal development. Engineering units,
for example, were using their equipment to build roads and rebuild
infrastructure ravaged during years of civil war.
Hooper said he was impressed by the
Liberian force that has emerged. “What I saw there was a Liberian military that
had a renewed faith in itself, a renewed enthusiasm about being a force for
good in its country and serving the people,” he said.
Michael Casciaro, Africom’s security
cooperation programs division chief, reported similar promise in Uganda, where
the command is providing training and equipment to build capability and
Casciaro said he received favorable
feedback about the transformation taking place in the Ugandan military from the
unlikeliest of sources: an opposition leader. “What he told us was, ‘I see the
difference in Americans operating in my country… I see the impact of Americans
working with the Ugandans because now they … go out and do humanitarian things
for their own country, and are being used in a different way,’” Casciaro said.
In 2007, Uganda stepped up to
support the African Union peacekeeping mission in Somalia, followed by Burundi;
both remain today as the primary troop-contributing nations. “A major objective
of ours has been to prepare Africans to go into Somalia to create stability,”
Casciaro said. “And [the African militaries] have been instrumental in clearing
a prominent terrorist group out of Mogadishu,” a first step toward expanding
the effort north to regain control of the country.
Army Brig. Gen. Arnold Gordon-Bray,
Africom’s deputy operations director, called the mission in Somalia “one of the
best examples of Africans helping themselves that we are involved in.”
The African Union established its
African Union Mission to Somalia with a clear vision that a failed Somalia
would impact the entire continent, Bray said.
“This collective grouping is
epitomizing what Africom is able to do, working with the State Department,
working with other international partners, working by, with and through African
partners to bring stability,” he said. “It is a great mission. It is symbolic
of all the great things we are trying to do.”
A full range of peacekeeping
training and instruction falls under the Africa Contingency Operations Training
and Assistance, a program funded and managed by the U.S. State Department. It
is designed to improve African militaries’ capabilities by providing selected
training and equipment required to execute multinational peace support
operations. U.S. military trainers play a supporting role, providing mentorship
and specialized instruction in areas such as bomb detection or deployment
Army Gen. Carter F. Ham, the Africom
commander, told Congress earlier this year he’s also encouraged by “an increasingly
collaborative approach” among African nations standing together against
al-Shabab. As they rallied to Somalia’s aid, the U.S. State Department
responded to their requests for help in training and equipping those forces so
they would be able to deploy to conduct their operations.
Ham called this effort a model of
what U.S. Africa Command is all about: a command able to tap into the full
range of U.S. government capabilities to help African nations better provide
for their own security.
“And it is starting now to have
significant benefit… We are seeing those African forces being more and more
successful against al-Shabab each and every day,” he said. “This is one example
of how building partner capacity really yields a decisive result in Africa,” he
Ham cited similar success in helping
Africans in their fight against the Lord’s Resistance Army.
U.S. Special Forces advisors working
with the four nations on the ground “are having a very positive effect,” he
told the House Armed Services Committee in February. “We’re assisting in
intelligence fusion, in facilitating long-range communications, logistics
operations to sustain forces in the field for long periods of time and
increased intelligence collection.”
“So I’m optimistic,” he told the
House panel. “But I’m not yet to the point where we see the end in sight.”
The result, Ham said, is fulfillment
of Africom’s goal of enabling Africans to solve African problems.
“If that is successful -- and I
believe the trend line is pretty good right now -- that means that’s an area
where the United States would not have to commit sizable forces to address a
security situation,” Ham told the House panel. “And that’s really what we’re
trying to do. That’s the essence of building partner capability in this
collaborative approach with state and defense.”