January 28, 2004 | Commentary on National Security and Defense

A Command for Africa

Five months have passed since President Bush ordered a limited but effective U.S. military intervention in Liberia. African troops with a modicum of American support have done a credible job helping to end violence and restore political order.

There's a lesson here: When the United States engages in Africa in a thoughtful manner, rather than a knee-jerk response, good things can happen. It's worth thinking through how we can improve on recent successes.

Now is a particularly good time to consider how we might respond better to challenges in African security. With the United States on the offensive in the Middle East and Asia, Africa could be the next hot spot for al Qaeda's mischief. In particular, the United States must remain alert to the rise of African states that might foster global terrorism.

While poverty and instability alone do not breed terrorists, many African nations with weak civil societies and poor law enforcement and judicial systems are vulnerable to penetration and exploitation. Such states offer terrorist groups an attractive opportunity to expand their resource base, making it possible to field an even more substantial threat to our security.

International terrorism already has a prominent foothold in Africa. It is no coincidence that Usama bin Laden found safe haven in Sudan in the 1990s. The al Qaeda threat continues to grow in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania. Al Qaeda cells also operate in neighboring Somalia.

Despite the growing specter of terrorism emanating from Africa, the Pentagon's overall approach has changed little. The United States has a network of global commands to direct counterterrorism operations on every continent, except Africa. In fact, more than three-fourths of the countries in sub-Saharan Africa are managed as a side operation by the U.S. European command, an organizational arrangement that is a vestige of both the continent's colonial legacy and the Cold War.

The European command's engagement in Africa has been spotty, at best. Even its commander, Gen. James L. Jones, has admitted that "we don't pay enough attention to Africa, but I think we're going to have to in the 21st century."

Large-scale use of U.S. combat forces in Africa isn't the answer. The armed forces are already straining to meet the demands of the war on terrorism. The United States should reserve its forces for the great-power missions that require the level of military power that only America can provide.

Instead, the United States should establish a command that can:

  • Focus more closely on Africa;
  • Lend assistance to favorable African militaries so they can tackle their own problems better; and
  • Build up the ability of regional powers to address regional challenges.

Shifting the command for sub-Saharan Africa to U.S. Central Command, with sub-commands for the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa, might be the best answer. For one thing, Central Command territory is adjacent to Africa. For another, such a structure would permit Central Command to focus more resources on this critical area and help us address security concerns common to the two regions more effectively.

Most important, a sub-command for Africa would give the U.S. military an instrument with which to engage effectively in the continent and reduce the potential that America might have to intervene directly.

An Africa sub-command also could more efficiently oversee U.S. anti-terrorism efforts and provide American political leaders with more thoughtful, informed military advice, based on an in-depth knowledge of the region and continuous planning and intelligence assessments. In turn, better awareness of military-political developments could preclude the need for intervention or limit the prospects for being drawn into open-ended or unsound military operations.

Finally, a sub-command for Africa would ensure a greater degree of success if Washington eventually does need to intervene there.

It also would be the kind of initiative that would proactively prepare for terrorist threats before they come out of Africa -- and at America.

About the Author

James Jay Carafano, Ph.D. Vice President for the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for National Security and Foreign Policy, and the E. W. Richardson Fellow

Nile Gardiner, Ph.D. Director, Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom
The Margaret Thatcher Center for Freedom

First appeared in FoxNews.com