|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 Somalia.
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 civilian leadership.
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 continent.
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 capacity.
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 logistics.
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 said.
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.”