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On Oct. 1, 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 world3. 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 . . . I can promise you this: America will be with you every step of the way."8 Successfully confronting these common challenges in Africa will require agreement on a comprehensive approach in the U.S., one that acknowledges that sustainable security depends on commitment from the whole of government.

Diplomacy, Development, and Defense

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton stated that smart power uses "the full range of tools at our disposal."9 She described diplomacy, development, and defense as the "three pillars of American foreign policy."10 The "three D's" have alternatively been called pillars, approaches, and concepts.11 The phrase arose as a way to describe synchronized diplomatic, development, and defense efforts to achieve U.S. foreign policy objectives in Iraq and Afghanistan, where military personnel, Department of State (DOS) employees, and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) officers cooperate in the field at unprecedented levels. The lessons learned from this integrated approach are being applied by USAFRICOM, its components, and U.S. Embassy Country Teams across Africa, resulting in significantly improved coordination.

Military power alone cannot deter conflict, restore good governance, or ensure a lasting peace.12 But neglecting the security sector perpetuates instability, slows political progress and inhibits long term development.13 Without a balanced effort, the U.S. government's disparate programs risks contributing to African states' failure to provide for the welfare of their people, which can lead to increases in authoritarianism, extremism, crime, and violence.14 Preventing these security challenges from reaching America's shores is a major tenet of U.S. defense strategy.

The DOD is responsible for countering threats to U.S. security, on its own, with the interagency and by cooperating with foreign governments. In fact, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates wrote, "Where possible, U.S. strategy is to employ indirect approaches-primarily through building the capacity of partner governments and their security forces-to prevent festering problems from turning into crises that require costly and controversial direct military intervention."15 An essential part of that strategy is providing military support to political leadership through security cooperation activities.

Four years ago, DOD issued Directive 3000.05, Military Support to Stability, Security, Transition and Reconstruction (SSTR) Operations, and the current administration reissued the policy as Stability Operations.16 The directive defines stability operations, provides guidance, and assigns responsibilities within DOD for planning, training, and preparing for the conduct of such operations as "rehabilitating former belligerents and units into legitimate security forces" and "strengthening governance and the rule of law."17

The policy puts stability operations "on par" with major combat operations and establishes the military's role as a supporting effort to overall U.S. Government stability, security, transition, and reconstruction operations. Successful stability operations require integrated civil-military efforts, and DOD Directive 3000.05 orders the services to develop the requisite means to rapidly aid in security capacity development, not just in Central and Southwest Asia, but globally and including Africa.

President Bush's decision to establish USAFRICOM was the culmination of a 10-year thought process within the U.S. government. It acknowledges the growing strategic importance of Africa, and recognizes that peace and stability on the continent affects not only Africans, but also the U.S. and international community. The creation of USAFRICOM provides increased opportunities for DOD to harmonize its efforts internally within the U.S. Government and externally with international partners.

Critiques of USAFRICOM and its mission have circulated over the last two years.18 Consequently, the command's original intent bears repeating: "In support of U.S. foreign policy and as part of a total U.S. government effort, U.S. Africa Command's intent is to assist Africans in providing their own security and stability and helping prevent the conditions that could lead to future conflicts."19 Hundreds of U.S. engagements with African political and military leaders indicate that many share USAFRICOM's emphasis on conflict prevention and African ownership. USAFRICOM's current strategy emphasizes focusing resources in "phase 0" to prevent crises from becoming catastrophes. (Figure 2 depicts conflict prevention in Joint Publication 3.0 during Phase 0 activities.)

USAFRICOM came into being without assigned forces and started with non-traditional component command arrangements, but as USAFRICOM evolves, it is working to leverage the strengths of each service. According to Title 10 of the U.S. Code, each geographic combatant command must have assigned service components to provide administrative and logistic support and to prepare forces and establish reserves of manpower, equipment, and supplies for the effective prosecution of military operations in theater.20 USAFRICOM has a sub-unified command: U.S. Special Operations Command Africa, a Combined Joint Task Force in the Horn of Africa, and four service component commands. The service component commands are 17th Air Force (U.S. Air Forces Africa); U.S. Naval Forces Africa (the commander is dual-hatted as the Commander of Naval Forces Europe); U.S. Marine Forces Africa (the commander is dual-hatted as the Commander of Marine Forces Europe); and the U.S. Army Southern European Task Force (U.S. Army Africa).21

U.S. Army Africa

As the Army Component, U.S. Army Africa now serves as the operational embodiment of a three D approach and demonstrates DOD and Army commitment to putting stability missions on par with major combat operations. This change of mission represents a dramatic change from Cold War days and a familiar NATO construct. Based in Vicenza, Italy, SETAF was formerly assigned to U.S. European Command via U.S. Army Europe and was a tactical headquarters focused on crisis response. Currently, SETAF is assigned to USAFRICOM as U.S. Army Africa. As an Army Service Component Command, U.S. Army Africa conducts sustained security engagement, supports ongoing operations, and simultaneously carries out congressionally mandated "Title 10" responsibilities for Army personnel in Africa. The command performs these three functions while concurrently deploying, as directed, a combined joint task force headquarters in support of a national, multinational, or international crisis response effort.22

This change of mission presents significant challenges. The headquarters doubled its size in 2009 but is still only one-half the size of the standard ASCC.23 Based on the worldwide demand for forces and enablers, the Department of the Army is unable to permanently assign units to U.S. Army Africa, requiring the command to reach back to U.S. Army Europe and U.S.-based units to accomplish its mission. Without forces and enablers, or consistent access to both, U.S. Army Africa must refine its procedures and develop creative concepts to support its interagency partners. This unique situation is why former Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, Theresa Whelan, described U.S. Army Africa as "interdependent from birth."

Despite these challenges, U.S. Army Africa provides effective support to USAFRICOM by synchronizing all Army activity in Africa, and leveraging joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational relationships. The command seeks to be the U.S. Army's premier organization achieving positive change in Africa and has four main objectives:

- Laying the foundation now for future success as a theater army.

- Helping African partner nations strengthen their land force capacity and encouraging the development of standards of professionalism that promote respect for legitimate civilian authorities and international humanitarian law.

- Becoming a trusted and reliable partner for African land forces, other U.S. government agencies, the security institutions of U.S. Allies, and international organizations working in Africa.

- Integrating and employing military capabilities to prevent or mitigate the effects of conflict or respond to crises in Africa.

These operational objectives support USAFRICOM's Strategy and Theater Campaign Plan; they are pursued in concert with U.S. country teams in Africa, the Department of the Army, the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa, Special Operations Command-Africa, and the other components.

Because U.S. Army Africa focuses on sustained security engagement to build partner capacity, it executes all tasks by, with, and through other government agencies and international partners. U.S. Army Africa recognizes that working with military, civilian, international, and African partners to build the capacity of African security institutions is not business as usual. The command must develop new, principled partnerships that respond to changing requirements whether they originate in Washington or Addis Ababa.

Army components traditionally execute capacity-building efforts through senior leader visits, military-to-military engagements, and combined exercises. These efforts remain central to U.S. Army Africa's engagement strategy even as it adds value to existing DOS activities like the African Contingency Operations Training and Assistance program. In fact, promoting professional military training and education within African land forces is a functional priority in all U.S. Army Africa activities. The Army will continue to draw on its experience and look for new ways to support the DOS, USAID, and America's international partners.

How U.S. Army Africa is Moving Forward

The DOD had previously divided its efforts in Africa across three separate combatant commands, and subsequently, the Army divided its efforts among three separate Army components. Because of the Unified Command Plan change, the U.S. Army and its many organizations can now speak with one voice to the joint, interagency, intergovernmental, and multinational community operating in Africa.

The U.S. Army Medical Command has research activities in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Nigeria, Tanzania, and Uganda; the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers participates in humanitarian civic assistance activities throughout the continent that are coordinated by the USAID representative at the U.S. Embassy.24 Army Material Command, through the U.S. Army Security Assistance Command, supports multi-million dollar DOS Foreign Military Sales Programs in 22 African countries.25 U.S. Army Africa is better postured to achieve unity of effort and to support a long-term, coherent defense sector reform or capacity-building strategy by harmonizing these and other Army activities on the continent.

In order to develop holistic Army proposals for security cooperation events in Africa, Army security cooperation stakeholders gathered in September 2009, at U.S. Army Africa Headquarters to hash out requirements, match capabilities, and create a unified position on Army priorities in Africa. Representatives from Medical Command, the Corps of Engineers, the Training and Doctrine Command, and Civil Affairs and Psychological Operations Command joined Army representatives from within U.S. Embassies and members of the U.S. Army Africa team. This meeting allowed U.S. Army Africa to translate country-team requests into Army program requirements.

Similarly, U.S. Army Africa is reviewing the ways in which a theater army supports its respective combatant command. As U.S. Army Africa inventoried U.S. Army-to-USAFRICOM activity, it discovered a web of agreements between USAFRICOM and various Army organizations, all initiated prior to U.S. Army Africa's existence. Redefining arrangements at the Army-to-Army level between U.S. Army Africa and Army organizations will improve the Army Component Commander's ability to advise the Combatant Commander, encourage efficiencies, and synchronize the full range of Army activities in Africa. Redefining the way the U.S. Army supports USAFRICOM is but one example of U.S. Army Africa moving forward-as an emerging theater army.


Developing relationships with Department of the Army staff and African land forces is central to the U.S. Army Africa mission; both sets of relationships are critical to achieving positive change in Africa. However, relationships with key interagency partners-for example, the State Department's Coordinator for Reconstruction and Stabilization and USAID's Office of Foreign Disaster Assistance (OFDA)-are equally important. These offices participate in post-conflict and post-disaster operations, respectively, and provide instruction on the interagency approach. Twice in the last year, OFDA taught the Joint Humanitarian Operations Course at U.S. Army Africa Headquarters. This instruction provided participants with a better understanding of other government agency humanitarian assistance programs and facilitated relationships that will be helpful during crises. Members of the U.S. Army Africa staff also attend the Joint Enabling Capabilities Command Planners Course and the Foreign Service Institute's Foundations for Interagency Planning Course as a way of preparing for increased interagency activity in times of crisis.

U.S. Army Africa is already exercising its deployable command post, which can provide command and control of small-scale contingency operations. Exercise Natural Fire, the largest joint and multinational exercise in Africa in 2009, tested this capability, and was a prime example of how U.S. Army Africa is moving forward. Planned to support DOS and USAID objectives in Uganda and executed in concert with non-governmental organizations, the globally resourced, U.S. Army Africa-led exercise took place in Uganda in October 2009. It focused on regional security and humanitarian and civic assistance using a disaster relief scenario. Major exercise objectives included increasing interoperability and strengthening the capability of approximately 650 troops from the East African partner states of Burundi, Kenya, Rwanda, Tanzania, and Uganda.

An important lesson from Natural Fire was that persistent, habitual engagements allow U.S. Army and partner forces to develop trustworthy relationships over time. The inaugural African Land Force Summit scheduled for mid-2010 is another example of the Army building relationships in Africa. U.S. Army Africa will bring together the Army chiefs of 54 African countries, the U.S. Army Chief of Staff, the Commanding General of U.S. Army Africa, and Army representatives from several global partners.26 As U.S. Army Africa moves forward, it will reassure its African, U.S. interagency, and international counterparts that it seeks persistent engagement with only a small presence and will not be an instrument of creeping militarism in U.S. foreign policy.

Natural Fire also confirmed the necessity of working closely with U.S. Embassy country teams and validated the need for country coordination elements. These elements give additional coordination capability to the senior defense official in the Embassy and provide a direct link to the country team. In times of crisis, country coordination elements provide a military planning capability that could enhance integrated planning at the country level.

Along with regionally focused special operations forces, U.S. Army attachAfAs and security assistance officers working in U.S. Embassies have traditionally provided the requisite knowledge that allows ambassadors and commanders to make well-informed, culturally attuned decisions. U.S. Army Africa's six foreign area officers, seven language-trained civil affairs and four regionally oriented psychological operations officers and noncommissioned officers (NCOs) now join 36 U.S. Army foreign area officers living and working in Africa. Soon, U.S. Army Africa will be the U.S. Army's central repository of African expertise and a natural assignment for U.S. Army Africanists. As officers and NCOs rotate from the continent to U.S. Army Africa, the positive, local relationships they build with African land forces will add instant value at the theater army level, and vice versa.

Security Force Assistance.

In addition to long-term personal relationships developed between commanders and staffs, teams of skilled Army leaders that advise-and-assist African land forces are essential to the U.S. Army Africa mission. Secretary of Defense Robert Gates emphasized the importance of the advisory mission to West Point cadets by telling them, "From the standpoint of America's national security, the most important assignment in your military career may not necessarily be commanding U.S. soldiers, but advising or mentoring the troops of other nations as they battle the forces of terror and instability within their own borders."27 Advisors and mentors will undoubtedly adapt themselves to the complex African security environment. Doing so will allow them to train security forces in a culturally relevant way and avoid the "mirror imaging" pitfall of trying to create forces in the U.S. Army's likeness.

In support of Army Campaign Plan Major Objective 8-6, "Adapt Army Institutions for Building Partnership Capacity," the Army is developing modular security force assistance brigades. Likely modeled on advise-and-assist brigades created for Iraq and Afghanistan, the brigades will go through the Army Force Generation process, be task organized, augmented, and regionally employed. The current augmentation of 20 to 50 field grade officers provides legal, military police, civil affairs, public affairs, engineers, and human terrain team capabilities.

U.S. Army Africa is heavily engaged in security force assistance and strengthening partner land-force capacity. Its non-commissioned officers are participating in the Liberia Defense Sector Reform, for example, and U.S. Army officers are teaching leadership and decision-making courses at the Ethiopian Staff College. U.S. Army Africa planners have also submitted a request for forces that acknowledged an enduring security force assistance requirement. By having five sub-regionally-oriented advise-and-assist teams focus on the five African Union Standby Force Brigades (North, South, East, West and Central), U.S. Army Africa is posturing itself to build partner force capacity, leverage short- or no-notice engagement opportunities, and increase U.S. situational awareness of diplomatic, development, and defense activity.

African Standby Force.

The U.S. Army can apply its expertise in Africa by helping build the capabilities of the African Standby Force. The African Union has an ambitious goal to have five regionally oriented brigades by 2010 for a range of military operations. Figure 3 shows the regions, brigade names, headquarters locations, and six scenarios against which the units train.1 As the African Union strives to achieve this goal, the U.S. Army, with its brigade-centric orientation, can work with the Global peacekeeping Operation Initiative and international partners to help strengthen these regional peacekeeping capabilities. Even though the five brigades are in various stages of development and readiness, the U.S. Army can leverage a "core competency" by providing brigade-level, land force expertise. Partnering with the African Standby Force will demonstrate that U.S. Army Africa is focused on defense matters, and not encroaching on diplomatic or development space in Africa.

Peace Support Operations.

The African Union regional economic organizations and the associated standby force headquarters either provide support to or have relationships with the African Union, UN, NATO, and European Union missions throughout Africa. Traditional U.S. allies, most notably the United Kingdom, France and Canada, participate bilaterally with African nations in various training events and security cooperation activities. The UN currently oversees eight peace support operations in Africa. The European Union and NATO have their own offices for 10 missions. Increasingly, these countries and organizations seek U.S. collaboration in training, exercises, education, or operations.

With this breadth of activities at the international level and a theater campaign plan task to support peace support operations in Africa, it would benefit U.S. Army Africa to better understand the organizations and land forces of countries most active in Africa. The U.S. Army currently has only three people committed in two UN missions in Africa. Increased U.S. Army Africa participation in these international or multinational missions may require policy changes, but providing U.S. Army teams to each peace support operation would provide nearly instant situational awareness with a relatively small commitment. Such an undertaking would be clear evidence of U.S. defense support to inherently diplomatic and development missions. The U.S. would also benefit by steadily building a cadre of personnel with experience in regions where the U.S. military has traditionally lacked expertise.


The U.S. Army faces at least four challenges in Africa, all of which could prevent U.S. Army Africa from moving forward with its initiatives.


The Army may not be able to resource U.S. Army Africa at an appropriate level to reach its objectives, at least until the demand in Iraq and Afghanistan has subsided. Without sufficient and dedicated resources, U.S. Army Africa remains wholly reliant upon other U.S. Army commands around the world to accomplish its mission in Africa. The Army recently decided to increase U.S. Army Africa's capabilities over a five-year period. This growth will provide USAFRICOM its own theater Army headquarters in the near-term, while mid-term sourcing solutions are developed to add a versatile mix of enabling capabilities needed to respond to crises. As U.S. Army Africa increases its activities to meet USAFRICOM requirements, the long-term need for dedicated forces will grow even further.


Fulfilling its new role will require U.S. Army Africa to balance its growing security engagement demands with the need to retain a well-trained, deployable contingency headquarters. Previously, SETAF benefited from a singular focus on its joint task force rapid response capability. Today, as U.S. Army Africa, the joint task force requirement is part of a larger mission set, each competing for personnel, equipment, resources, and time. In two exercises last year, Lion Focus and Judicious Response, the headquarters had to reduce security cooperation activity and delay routine meetings in order to perform its joint task force function. The new theater army structure should mitigate this risk by allowing a main command post to focus on daily operations while a contingency command post would remain prepared to provide command and control over small-scale contingencies, foreign humanitarian assistance and non-combatant evacuation operations.


The emphasis on sustained security engagement in the pre-conflict phase risks three types of rejection: African, international, and interagency. If African states and international organizations like the UN, EU, and NATO reject U.S. overtures, capacity-building and crisis-prevention solutions could be viewed as illegitimate. Recognizing that many African militaries organized along European or Soviet system lines, imposing a distinctly American model might complicate the capacity-building effort. Therefore, understanding African perspectives and gaining the support of international partners will be as critical as working effectively with other U.S. government agencies. Within the U.S. government, the DOD will need to clearly explain the value of early engagement and address institutional sensitivities regarding the militarization of U.S. foreign policy. The positive effects of clear communication and transparent activities like exercise Natural Fire have already helped overcome the initial resistance to increased US military cooperation in Africa.


Perhaps the greatest challenge to creating positive conditions in Africa is synchronizing U.S. defense efforts with diplomatic and development efforts. The inadvertent outcome of inadequately coordinated U.S. Army Africa action could be that well-trained African units intended for use in peace support operations, but not properly subordinated to civilian authority, involve themselves inappropriately in domestic policing missions, coups, or conduct controversial cross-border activity. Efforts to improve security force capabilities should thus be multi-level and multi-ministry; current operations demonstrate that capacity building should take an enterprise approach and should include advisory missions at the ministries of Defense, Interior, and Justice to ensure the entire security sector moves forward together.29 Consequently, as DOD commits to achieving military objectives, U.S. efforts should be comprehensive and "tied to political benchmarks. Consistent failure to achieve those benchmarks can result in the continual drawdown and eventual limitation of U.S. support."30

Forward Together

Diplomacy, development, and defense are integrally linked. The creation of USAFRICOM heralds a more comprehensive U.S. approach in Africa, and establishment of U.S. Army Africa enables USAFRICOM to more effectively advance American objectives for self-sustaining African security and stability. Even as the U.S. recognizes the growing importance of Africa, wars in Afghanistan and Iraq continue to require the Army to address its other global commitments. However, with a modest investment of resources, U.S. Army Africa can deliver low-cost, well-coordinated, and sustained security engagement as part of a collective effort to achieve transformational change in Africa. As U.S. Army Africa moves forward, it promises to be a key partner in helping Africans provide for their own security in ways that benefit America, Africa, and the world.

Related Links:

USAFRICOM and the U.S. Army in Africa