The New York Times has a helpful read out on the U.S. Government Accountability Office’s new report (PDF) on the Pentagon’s Africa Command, or AFRICOM. The report—with the cumbersome title, “Defense Management: Actions Needed to Address Stakeholder Concerns, Improve Interagency Collaboration, and Determine Full Costs Associated with the U.S. Africa Command”— concludes that AFRICOM has a long way to go in recovering from its “early missteps in explaining its missions and purpose,” which have caused serious doubts and concern at the State Department, in Congress, and on the African continent about the Pentagon’s goals.
The Defense Department is working hard to avoid furthering the conception that AFRICOM aims to militarize U.S. foreign policy in Africa. However, the report notes that AFRICOM has failed to meet its initial personnel goals of filling their ranks with diplomats and civilians from agencies beyond the traditional military commands. If AFRICOM pushes to include a greater percentage of non-military personnel in both its leadership and rank-and-file, then it may be able to begin to recover from some of the early critiques of the mission. Thus we see that AFRICOM not only faces a real public relations challenge, but some clear operational hurdles as well.
Finally, I’d have to agree with Senator Russ Feingold’s (D-WI) recent comments on the Senate Floor, which Enough reported on here, that in instances where AFRICOM provides support to joint military operations on the continent, such as the recent Operation Lightning Thunder against the Lord’s Resistance Army, the command must be aware of “the potential [for AFRICOM] to eclipse our civilian agencies and thereby perpetuate perceptions on the continent of a militarized U.S. policy.” While U.S. support for African military-led operations may be essential in some cases, AFRICOM and the administration as a whole need to make sure that military efforts are complemented by sound, strategic diplomacy and careful measures to protect civilians.
Check out the summary and recommendations of the 47-page report on the GAO website here.