“All this folds into the administration’s commitment to democracy, overall stability and to working with Africans as partners,” said Huddleston, who has extensive experience in Africa, having served in Mali, Ethiopia and Madagascar.
On the threat side, the command works with African nations on common security challenges, which she said “are generally coming from no state actors.”
The two areas of most concern are the Horn of Africa and the Sahel region, the east-west band that stretches along the southern border of the Sahara desert, Huddleston said.
Al-Qaida is operating in Somalia and in Algeria. Somalia is a classic failed state, and the piracy along its coast is only one manifestation of that. Al-Qaida is operating in the country, and indications are that Somali members may try to export terrorism from the area, she said.
In the Sahel, al-Qaida in the Maghrab is believed to be responsible for thousands of deaths in Algeria. The group moves between that countries an In the Sahel, al-Qaida in the Maghrab is believed to be responsible for thousands of deaths in Algeria. The group moves between that country and safe havens in ungoverned parts of the Sahel, she said.
But AFRICOM is about more than just countering threats, Huddleston said. The command works with the UN and the AU in Sudan and Darfur by providing logistics and transportation to peacekeepers in the region.
“You can’t have secure environments for democracy, education, health, development, or for opportunities for individuals if you have failed or failing states,” Huddleston said.
Liberia is a prime example, she said. The West African nation is recovering from a brutal civil war. US Africa Command experts are in Liberia to help train the military, not just on combat skills, but also on human rights and the meaning of having civilian control of the military, Huddleston said.
“This also includes working with their civilian leaders so they understand how they should relate to the military what they should do, how they should do it, and how they can control and give political guidance to their military,” she said.
Accomplishing the command’s mission requires a joint effort with the State Department, which trains police and needs more resources in countries recovering from civil war, Huddleston said.
The command has placed more resources on the continent. “I see more military personnel doing more things and more different things than four years ago,” Huddleston said. “I think that it is sometimes difficult given the priorities — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq — but there are more resources than were there under the three commands that formerly had responsibility for the region.”
The command’s priority is building relationships with the governments of the continent, as well as nurturing regional relationships.
Many of Africa’s problems are regional. The AIDS/HIV epidemic knows no boundaries. Drug and human trafficking are transnational scourges and will require cooperation among a number of different nations to erase. Terror groups will operate where and when they can, Huddleston said.
But Africa is improving, she said. “Two-thirds of the states in Africa are making progress,” she said. “That means one-third isn’t making progress, and that’s what we concentrate on.”
The command had a rough go of it on the continent when plans for the command were first announced. Huddleston thinks much of that criticism has blown over.
President Barack Obama addressed some of that hesitancy during a visit to Ghana last month. “Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold on the continent, but on confronting common challenges to advance the security of Africa, America and the world,” he said.
The command allows the Defense Department to pay more attention and deliver more aid to the continent, and leaders are seeing this, Huddleston said.
“What I would like to see next is that we could work closely within the regions,” she said. Peacekeeping forces are needed throughout the continent and regional brigades are particularly effective.
A goal of the AU is to build-up these regional brigades, Huddleston said. “If you look at Africa, the first responders to these crises are these regional brigades, ECOWAS in West Africa, the regional units in Somalia,” she said. “I believe that’s a harder piece. I think we have to do more and better particularly when we look at the issue strategically.”
The US would like to see more security cooperation with foreign partners Britain, France, Spain and the EU. “We also need to work more closely with the UN,” she said.
The US Africa Command partnership looks to make improvements that are in the strategic interests of Africa and the US.
Pic: AFRICOM logo