Academic journal article Military Review

Forward in Africa: USAFRICOM and the U.S. Army in Africa

Academic journal article Military Review

Forward in Africa: USAFRICOM and the U.S. Army in Africa

Article excerpt


ON 1 OCTOBER 2009, U.S. Army Africa, formerly the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force (SETAF) became the Army Service Component Command (ASCC) for U.S. Africa Command (USAFRICOM). That designation reflects some modest, but significant, good news; a year earlier, USAFRICOM had no dedicated Army Service Component Command. Today, U.S. Army Africa embodies the U.S. Army's commitment to the full spectrum of military operations. The command is well on its way to transforming from a tactical contingency headquarters to a regionally focused theater army headquarters capable of synchronizing all U.S. Army activity in Africa, conducting sustained security engagement with African land forces, and responding promptly and effectively to a variety of crises in Africa.

With the 2008 change to the Unified Command Plan (Figure 1), USAFRICOM assumed Department of Defense (DOD) responsibility for relationships with 53 distinct countries that maintain predominately land-centric security forces. Consequently, U.S. Army Africa forms a critical part of America's overall engagement strategy on the African continent. As USAFRICOM matures its approach to security cooperation with a persistent, sustained level of engagement, the Army's role in building partner security capacity to prevent or mitigate conflict will increase. As the U.S. strategy focuses more on preventing conflict through engagement, U.S. Army Africa will be the primary instrument to facilitate the development of African land forces and institutions in a region of growing strategic importance.

Africa is the second largest, second most populous, and one of the most diverse continents on Earth. The billionth African will be born in 2010, and by 2050, there may be two Africans for every European. (1) More than 22 large ethnic groups and thousands of tribes or clans speak over 2,000 languages, and Africans ascribe to an array of traditional and tribal religions. (2) Africa has a variety of natural resources, but despite recent economic growth, most African countries have the lowest gross domestic products in the world. (3) Violent competition for natural resources, low levels of economic development, and inconsistent governance have unfortunately made Africa a world leader in humanitarian crises, failed states, and deadly conflict. (4) The conflicts in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, for example, are currently the world's two deadliest, disrupting stability and impeding development in neighboring countries.


Africa hosts more United Nations (UN) peace-keeping missions than any other continent and employs the majority of UN field personnel. Eight of 19 current UN peace support missions employ 69,951 of the 95,419 UN troops, police, and observers in Africa. (5) One hundred and sixteen countries contribute military, police, and civilian observers to UN peacekeeping operations in Africa, underscoring a high level of international interest in security and stability in the continent. (6) The frailty of African security institutions, multifaceted economic partnerships, compelling humanitarian needs, and resource development potential make Africa a vital region for the international community and a complex environment for U.S. operations.

Historically, the U.S. tendency has been to put Africa at "the periphery of American strategy, to accord it our second-best efforts, or to ignore it entirely." (7) Under the Bush administrations, however, the U. S. Government significantly raised the profile of its African programs through well-resourced initiatives, such as the President's Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and the creation of USAFRICOM.

President Barack Obama quickly reinforced the role of USAFRICOM when addressing Africans in the first months of his administration, "Let me be clear. Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold on the continent, but on confronting common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa, and the world . …

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