Vince Crawley's Africa Blog

Hard Question to our Website – AFRICOM and DRC

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on February 24, 2010

When AFRICOM Works with DRC Troops, How Do We Know Our Training Won’t be Used Against Civilian Population?

U.S. Africa Command recently began working with the Light Infantry Battalion program in the DRC, with the goal of training a model battalion for the DRC military (known as the FARDC). This is an initiative by the U.S. Department of State, with the U.S. military in support.

 A couple of days ago, an anonymous visitor posted a newspaper article on our Website about human rights abuses by militaries in the Congo. After the article, our visitor added,

I read this article and thought to myself, why are more people not getting involved?. The USA protects most other countries from things like this. Why do we Americans just turn our heads and look the other way? These people are dieing, suffering from hunger, disease, and the people that are ment to protect them are murdering them.”

 Shortly after this posting came into our Website, we had a group of African journalists visiting us in Stuttgart. One of their main questions was, If the United States trains African militaries and improves their capability, how can we guarantee these well-trained troops won’t attack civilian populations or overthrow their government?

There are no easy answers, and these questions deserve thoughtful response. So, in consultation with the U.S. Embassy in Kinshasa, as well as with officials in Washington, we crafted an answer to the question and posted it on our website.

The question was in response to an article about U.S. Africa Command’s General Ward visiting the DRC in April 2009.– When the public provides feedback to our articles, the feedback appears directly below the main article, and our Public Affairs response then appears below the question.

The public feedback on our site read as follows, beginning with a story in the U.K. Guardian newspaper told through the eyes of a victim of violence in the DRC:

On 2/22/2010 10:24:49 PM, Anonymous in Unspecified said:

Congo: “The soldiers meant to protect us are the same ones killing people”

Mupole Natabaro, 30, from Musurundi, recalls being gang-raped and left for dead by government troops who killed her family.
(by David Smith in Goma, Friday 5 February 2010 19.03 GMT)

One day the FDLR rebels attacked the government soldiers’ positions. They fought but the FDLR was not strong enough so they ran into the forest.
Then the government army came to the village. They said they were coming to protect us but they were nervous and their behaviour changed. They raped and killed people and burned them in their houses. Many died that day.
I was hiding in the bush near the village. I heard that my parents, younger brothers and three sons were killed on the same day.
I was running in the forest and met a government soldier. He took me and raped me. After that he went to call his colleagues to do the same thing. Five of them raped me. I felt bad. I was hurt in my stomach.
The soldiers took off all my clothes and left me in the forest. To the people who found me, I was like a dead person. They carried me to a nearby village and took care of me.
When my husband heard about what happened to me he said he could not live with me any more he could not be my husband any more. When I heard that I was really shocked. I have no parents, no children, no husband. It’s a bad situation. I’m not even able to buy soap.
I was shocked that the soldiers who came to protect us did this. If it was the FDLR I could understand better, but with the government army, it’s insane. They were former CNDP [another armed rebel group].
It’s not wrong for the UN to support government soldiers, but the soldiers meant to protect us are the same ones killing people.
It seems like this is the end of my life. I don’t know if I will survive after this. I don’t know what will happen tomorrow. I have hope in God. Only God knows the future. Maybe God can send good people to help me get better.
I still think about that day. When I think of my parents and sons and the poverty and misery I now live in, I don’t have peace. When I think about those government soldiers I’m angry, but at church they teach us to forgive. I sometimes say to God: Forgive those guys. [END of ARTICLE]

 I read this article and thought to myself, why are more people not getting involved?. The USA protects most other countries from things like this. Why do we Americans just turn our heads and look the other way? These people are dieing, suffering from hunger, disease, and the people that are ment to protect them are murdering them. Anyone on this planet that can just forget what is goin on in the Ccongo and not say their peace, or do something to help is just as bad as the murderers and rapists. I watched a viedo of a man 19 years old that was from Rowanda say that if at time of war it is ok to rape the women. What are we teaching our children? In any country, this is wrong.

Our reply is below. Ordinarily I sign these answers myself, but this really was a team effort, including thoughtful input from several people.

 On 2/24/2010 5:37:26 PM, AFRICOM Public Affairs responded

Thank you for sharing this poignant article and furthering awareness of this issue. Tragic stories like these, involving women and children, are an unfortunate reality in the DRC.

It is our mission at U.S. Africa Command to work with the DRC and other African partners to, over time, prevent conflict and instability that lead to violence, destruction, and reduce the quality of life of people throughout Africa. We are partnering with African militaries to create more stable environments in which democratic institutions can develop and assistance can reach those who need it the most. A key part to this objective is the reform of the country’s military to ensure it protects, rather than preys upon, its people.

On Feb. 17, 2009, U.S. and Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) representatives gathered near Kisangani to mark the establishment of a light infantry battalion, which is intended to be a model unit for the future of the Congolese military. (See article at .) The soldiers of this unit will undergo 6 to 8 months of training, as part of a U.S. government partnership with the DRC government. This training will support the DRC with its desire to transform its military into a professional, accountable and sustainable institution that provides meaningful security to the people of DRC. Human rights considerations and the respect for human rights in military operations will be incorporated into each aspect of the training, so as to prevent instances of rape and abuse described in the article you mention. In accordance with the Leahy Amendment of the U.S. Foreign Assistance Act, recipients of U.S. military training and assistance have been vetted through the U.S. Department of State for human rights abuses.

The main objective of the training is to develop a more professional DRC military force that respects civilian authority, protects its nation and citizenry, and contributes to regional stability.

In separate but related activities, US Africa Command legal experts have been involved with this issue for nearly three years now, primarily with the teaching of seminars through the Defense Institute of International Legal Studies. The goal of the many of the seminars is to address sex- and gender-based violence in the DRC by strengthening the capacities of the investigators and magistrates in the military justice system to investigate and prosecute these crimes, and in turn to move the FARDC closer to its goal of attaining professional, disciplined military standards.

We all hope that over time, stories like this one become less common, as the international community works together with the DRC, African nations and global partners towards a more stable, secure and prosperous DRC and Africa.

With deep respect,
The U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs team

For more on this issue, please see a group of articles I posted to our Website two years ago, in February 2008: U.S. Military Legal Experts Train DR Congo Military in Preventing, Prosecuting Sex Crimes

 This includes a U.S. Embassy press release about  a U.S. military workshop on gender-based violence issues, as well as a United Nation press release on the same issue.


Africa issues in the Quadrennial Defense Review

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on February 2, 2010

Every four years, during the start of each presidential term, Congress requires the president to conduct a review of military strategy and priorities. The most recent QDR, setting the military priorities of the Obama administration, was released February 1, 2010, to accompany the president’s fiscal 2011 budget request to Congress.

 The QDR is more than 120 pages. You can find full documentation, plus articles and transcripts, on the Pentagon’s QDR page:

 Below are some of the aspects that directly affect U.S. military policy with African nations. The QDR sets strategic guidance for all parts of the U.S. military, to include U.S. Africa Cmmand (AFRICOM). The QDR document begins by saying:

 “The mission of the Department of Defense is to protect the American people and advance our nation’s interests.”

The document emphasizes that the United States is at war in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as engaged in broader conflict against al-Qaida and its allies. At the same time, the document emphasizes multilateral approaches, especially in the many places around the globe where the U.S. military is not involved in direct combat. 

“[A]s a global power, the strength and influence of the United States are deeply intertwined with the fate of the broader international system—a system of alliances, partnerships, and multinational institutions that our country has helped build and sustain for more than sixty years. The U.S. military must therefore be prepared to support broad national goals of promoting stability in key regions, providing assistance to nations in need, and promoting the common good.”

U.S. Defense strategy is to:

  • Prevail in today’s wars:
  • Prevent and deter conflict:
  • Prepare to defeat adversaries and succeed in a wide range of contingencies:
  • Preserve and enhance the All-Volunteer Force: 

The document also talks about “Strengthening Relationships”:

Achieving the Department’s strategic objectives requires close collaboration with counterparts at home and with key allies and partners abroad. Through its foreign defense relationships, the United States not only helps avert crises but also improves its effectiveness in responding to them. Moreover, by integrating U.S. defense capabilities with other elements of national security—including diplomacy, development, law enforcement, trade, and intelligence—the nation can ensure that the right mix of expertise is at hand to take advantage of emerging opportunities and to thwart potential threats.

Strengthening key relationships abroad: America’s power and influence are enhanced by sustaining a vibrant network of defense alliances and new partnerships, building cooperative approaches with key states, and maintaining interactions with important international institutions such as the United Nations. Recognizing the importance of fostering and improving military and defense relations with allies and partners, the Department continues to emphasize tailored approaches that build on shared interests and common approaches.

The QDR identifies six key missions:

  • Defend the United States and support civil authorities at home;
  • Succeed in counterinsurgency, stability, and counterterrorism operations;
  • Build the security capacity of partner states;
  • Deter and defeat aggression in anti-access environments;
  • Prevent proliferation and counter weapons of mass destruction; and
  • Operate effectively in cyberspace.

Page 28 of the QDR gets to the heart of why the United States does not seek new military bases in many parts of the world, where a small-scale advisory approach is more appropriate:

Efforts that use smaller numbers of U.S. forces and emphasize host-nation leadership are generally preferable to large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns. By emphasizing host-nation leadership and employing modest numbers of U.S. forces, the United States can sometimes obviate the need for larger-scale counterinsurgency campaigns. For example, since 2002 U.S. forces have trained and advised elements of the Philippine armed forces working to secure areas of the southern Philippines that had been a haven for the Abu Sayyaf terrorist organization and other terrorist elements. Over the past eight years, U.S. forces and their Philippine counterparts have trained together and worked to understand the organization and modus operandi of the adversary. As their equipment and skills have improved, Philippine forces have patrolled more widely and more frequently, bringing security to previously contested areas.

This model is being applied elsewhere to good effect. U.S. forces are working in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, Colombia, and elsewhere to provide training, equipment, and advice to their host-country counterparts on how to better seek out and dismantle terrorist and insurgent networks while providing security to populations that have been intimidated by violent elements in their midst. For example, over the past ten years, U.S. advisors have helped Colombia to enhance its land, air, and maritime capabilities and improve the professionalism of its security forces. The results of these efforts, when combined with U.S. economic and governance assistance, have included the demobilization of some 50,000 members of illegal armed groups and a dramatic reduction in terrorist incidents since 2002.

Page 61 discusses specific U.S. military goals in Africa:

The United States will continue working with African partners to help foster stability and prosperity throughout the continent. The need to assist fragile, post-conflict states, such as Liberia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and Sudan, and failed states such as Somalia, and transnational problems, including extremism, piracy, illegal fishing, and narcotics trafficking, pose significant challenges. America’s efforts will hinge on partnering with African states, other international allies and partners, and regional and subregional security organizations to conduct capacity-building and peacekeeping operations, prevent extremism, and address humanitarian crises.

Page 64 discusses regional perspectives in determining how U.S. forces will be used around the world over the next five years.

Regional Posture Perspectives

The United States will emphasize the following priorities in adapting and developing its global defense posture over the next five years:

  • Reaffirm our commitment to Europe and NATO, including through the development of European missile defense capabilities;
  • Work with allies and key partners to ensure a peaceful and secure Asia-Pacific region;
  • Balance ongoing operations, crisis response, and prevent-and-deter activities in the development of a strategic defense posture in the broader Middle East, Africa, and Central and South Asia; and
  • Support partnership capacity-building efforts in key regions and states.

The report then takes a region-by-region assessment. Page 68 gets to the heart of the U.S. military strategy in Africa for the Obama administration:

 In Africa, the United States will continue to maintain a limited rotational military presence to help build partner security capacity, including for peacekeeping operations; generate regional security cooperation opportunities; and foster the development of constructive African civil-military relations. All such efforts to build partner capacity will pay special attention to the dynamics associated with civil-military relations in host countries and will emphasize the principles of civilian control and respect for dignity, rule of law, and professionalism. The expanse of Africa and the light U.S. footprint there highlight the importance of en route infrastructure to support defense activities in theater.

The United States will work with allies and partners to enhance a defense posture that supports contingency response by improving our relationships and access agreements with African allies and partners, improving preexisting African-owned infrastructure, and exploring innovative opportunities for logistical collaboration with African militaries. We also strive to share facilities and cooperate more closely with European allies in our efforts to help African states build capacity and to prepare for contingency response.

That’s the strategic blueprint for U.S. Africa Command for the next four to five years.