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