Senior Official: Military Will Maintain Low-key Africa Presence

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By Jim Garamone
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, March 13, 2013 – U.S. military efforts in Africa will remain low-key and “small footprint,” and will be geared toward building relationships with African nations, a senior Defense Department official said yesterday at the Pentagon.

U.S. Africa Command is maturing and running a variety of exercises and operations with allies to continue the trend, the official said, speaking to reporters on background.

The command really has a two-fold mission on the continent, the official said. First, there is a very active approach to countering threats to U.S. citizens and U.S. interests in Africa. Second is the development of “effective partnerships to prevent and respond to conflict and [other threats to] stability wherever it manifests,” the official said.

The continent is very much a “glass-is-half-empty, glass-is-half-full” kind of place, the official acknowledged. In East Africa, there has been tremendous success with Somalia. The nations of the region, under the African Union, banded together to stop extremism and to give the Somali people some stability. The AU mission, coupled with Combined Joint Task Force 150, the multinational counterpiracy crew, has given the failed state of Somalia a new chance.

Across the continent, “there’s a lot to talk about in terms of what went wrong with Mali and how might we as a U.S. government and as an international community learn from that,” the official said.

The prerequisites for a successful policy include having “a shared view of a threat environment, having shared values, being willing to engage in capacity and capabilities development, and then being willing, as a partner government, to employ your capabilities vis-a-vis the threats in your environment,” the official explained. “I think we can kind of disassemble those elements and point to some areas where this did not work out well in Mali.”

The effort on the continent is diverse because the continent itself is diverse. Africa is not a one-size-fits-all place, the official noted. It has 54 nations with hundreds of languages, thousands of tribal affiliations and a great disparity among the haves and have-nots.

The U.S. military relates to each country differently, the official said, and maintains a small footprint. “We have one enduring location on the continent in the form of Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti,” the official said. “It’s critical to our counterterrorism operations and our security and cooperation activities in East Africa.”

The United States has “cooperative security location” arrangements on a rotational or intermittent basis with a number of other countries, the official said, and other access arrangements develop over time on an as-needed basis, consistent with what’s happening in the security environment.

The United States has signed a status-of-forces agreement with Niger, and a unit is flying remotely piloted aircraft from the country. This helps the United States and allies in the region better understand the situation in the Sahel and in northern Mali in particular, the official said.

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