Progress on AFRICOM
As a new contributing member of ThreatsWatch, I participated Wednesday in a Bloggers' Roundtable discussion with Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Theresa Whelan on the initiation of United States Africa Command and developments on the African continent with major implications for US national security. The roundtable was part of a series held to facilitate "source material for stories in the blogosphere concerning the Department of Defense (DoD) and the Global War on Terrorism by bloggers and online journalists."
Primarily, Secretary Whelan focused on the distinct nature of AFRICOM in relation to the other Unified Combatant Commands such as CENTCOM or PACOM with their focus on war-fighting. Instead, AFRICOM is intended to build local security capacity through military-to-military relations. This capacity is to include peacekeeping capabilities and also, a previously lacking focus on maritime security.
As an example of the type of mission's AFRICOM can be expected to undertake in the future, Secretary Whelan offered 2002's Operation Focus Relief which saw US Special Forces units train members of the Nigerian armed forces, a process that facilitated the transformation of several "Bad Boy Battalions" into "C" or "B-" students.
From this discussion, it appears that the main goal of AFRICOM is to assist in the formulation of effective and professional indigenous armed forces on the African continent, so that when security issues emerge, they do not require outside intervention. As such, the American public should not expect a greatly increased military presence in Africa as the creation of AFRICOM is meant to streamline the implementation of previously existing policies and not to significantly increase American involvement on the continent as a means to secure natural resources or react to an increased Chinese presence. Secretary Whelan plainly stated that there will be no new bases or troops in Africa, but there will be a presence in the form of staff personnel, which is likely to be scattered in various countries, and not in one primary location.