AFRICOM to help build African Standby Force
STUTTGART, Germany — While it endeavors to have a humanitarian touch, one main goal of the newest U.S. military command, the Africa Command, will be very military.
The command, scheduled to become operational this week, will focus much of its activity on helping to build the fledgling African Standby Force.
It is hoped the force, being organized by the Ethiopia-based African Union, or AU, will be ready by 2010. It would consist of five multinational brigades based in the giant continent. Each brigade would perform missions in its given region, such as peacekeeping when the need arose.
Gen. William E. Ward, nominated to become the first AFRICOM commander, last week told the U.S. Senate in writing that U.S. troops would help the brigades come to life.
“AFRICOM will assume sponsorship of ongoing command and control infrastructure development and liaison officer support,” he wrote. “It would continue to resource military mentors for peacekeeping training, and develop new approaches to supporting the AU and African Standby Forces.”
The comments were in response to previously submitted questions from the Senate Armed Services Committee, which on Thursday questioned Ward in person on his vision for the command.
Theresa Whelan, deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs, told a Sept. 20 gathering of scholars and reporters in Washington that she hoped the continent would eventually not need to “import” security.
For example, on Tuesday the United Nations authorized U.N. and European Union peacekeepers to reinforce the African Union’s peacekeeping efforts around Sudan’s Darfur region.
“One of the things that [African leaders] have told us was that if we were really serious about supporting the African Union and its African standby force concept,” Whelan said, “then we could show and demonstrate that seriousness by establishing our presence in proximity to the African standby brigades and in their region, so that we could work more effectively with each brigade.”
According to the military, AFRICOM, which began forming in Stuttgart in February, plans to bring an array of ongoing U.S. military efforts in Africa under one command.
For a number of years, the United States has been sending troops to train one-to-one with the militaries of African nations. In the future, it is planned that troops from these nations would comprise the standby brigades.
U.S. troops have led training in reconnaissance, patrolling, maritime security, communications and other tactics. “At a minimum, what we hope is that African nations will be able to manage security in their own territorial waters, in their own land territories, in their own regions and also across the continent,” Whelan said.
There is no shortage of African troops to join the AU’s brigades, according to David Zounmenou, senior researcher for the Institute for Security Studies, a Pretoria, South Africa-based think tank. The challenge, Zounmenou said, is providing troops with vehicles, aircraft, weaponry, communications equipment and other items that cost money. “Members (nations) do not pay,” Zounmenou said. “This problem has been affecting every [African security] initiative for decades. Financial is one of most important challenges.
“We cannot send those troops empty-handed. The [AU] policy document and consensus is already done. The problem is to move to the second phase of the project. That is where U.S. assistance will be needed.”