The AFRICOM Enigma


By Ed Timperlake

Nathan Hodge has just written an extremely important, well-documented and insightful book on peacekeeping and related adventures.  The book provides insight into the launch of AFRICOM, a key command in the current Libyan operation. His Chapter 10, “Peace Corps on Steroids” describes with great insight and excellent sources, the creation of AFRICOM and should be required reading by all journalists covering the combat actions against Libya.

To steal from the TV show Law and Order — his Chapter 10 is “ripped from the headlines.” Nathan Hodge captures perfectly the mission and focus that was briefed to African leaders justifying the stand up of AFRICOM. “On February 6 2007, President Bush made public his decision to create a new unified command for Africa and directed the Secretary of Defense to have AFRICOM up and running by the end of fiscal year 2008.” President Bush wanted AFRICOM to be a command focused on “soft power.” Essentially, the command’s raison d’Etat was to be humanitarian assistance. Total consultation with African Leaders was promised.

Of course being “weary” of American motives, U.S. teams briefing this new command met with resistance by almost all African leaders. As Nathan Hodge explains, some thought it a “poorly disguised neocolonial scheme.”  He goes on to explain that “U.S Planners seamed to have willfully ignored the continent’s history. ‘It was a complete and total disaster’…briefers kept changing the briefing slides on each stop of the tour.”

To make amends for such a difficult start, “U S officials were careful to always emphasize the ‘preventive’ and ‘nonkinetic’ nature of AFRICOM.” Of course, the US military always reserves the right through accident or bungling to engage in mission creep. And the book correctly claims: a mission creep mentality was evolving. He documents this drift after observing the U.S. Army, actions on the ground and in war games— “What was missing from the planning and scenarios was some notion of balance between military and humanitarian capacity. U.S. Foreign policy in Africa was quietly being militarized, but there was no parallel effort to beef up traditional aid and development efforts.” This is in spite of all public comments made by both the Bush and Obama Administrations.

He goes on to point out in Chapter 10 a huge caution that regardless of stated motives “When the continent was viewed through the lens of preventative security, security became the sole goal.” And no truer prescient words have been written.

This newest command stood up for humanitarian and nonkinetic assistance is now running America’s third 21st Century war through air power against Colonel Quadaffi who is the leader of the sovereign African state of Libya.

The world has had plenty of evidence that the Libyan leader is as President Bush would say “an evil doer.”  But it took President Obama and his team of Secretary Clinton, Ambassador Rice, and NSC staffer Samantha Power to start a war practically over night. Not since the Tokin Gulf incident has America committed forces to combat in such a “ready fire aim moment.” And remember the combat action contrived off the Vietnam coast at least had the Johnson Administration looking for a “fig leaf” of congressional approval. Tragically, Congress once they approved LBJ’s war eventually cut the money while people were still dying in South Vietnam and Cambodia.

Now almost four decades later the Obama Administration is facing another combat dilemma. It was said by Field Marshall Helmuth von Moltke that “no battle plan ever survives contact with the enemy.” One just has to read Armed Humanitarians, Chapter 10, to see symbolically that AFRICOM’s  stated mission did not survive contact with the current administration.

The other adage (cliché) is “the plan goes out the window when the first round goes down range”—before the first round went down range in the Libyan attack AFRICM was shot by friendly fire before that war began.

Armed Humanitarians, The Rise of The Nation Builders (Bloomsbury USA, 2011).