Vince Crawley's Africa Blog

U.S. Africa Command: A Journey of Decades

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on August 31, 2011

By Vince Crawley

A Somali girl at a refugee camp in Wajir, Kenya,January 1993. Photo by Vince Crawley

I wrote and  published the below essay, minus the lengthy footnotes, as part of our March 2011 photo book “U.S. Africa Command: The First Three Years …” However, I think the footnotes and sources help contribute to the public discussion of the origins of U.S. AFRICOM, a subject in which opinions often have been presented freely as facts and vice versa. My thesis, not necessarily strongly stated in the paper, is that the creation of U.S. Africa Command was not a radical departure from long-established U.S. foreign policy in Africa, as some perceived, but instead represented a logical progression in U.S. military interaction with African nations and regional organizations.

This is, in many respects, still a work in progress. I would welcome any corrections, clarifications, or additions. 

14th CENTURY KING - This bronze image of a ruler of the kingdom of Ife, in modern-day Nigeria, was created in the 1300s and today is one of the prized masterpieces in the British Museum in London. Arts and culture have flourished for thousands of years across Africa, a continent of 1 billion people, more than 1,000 languages and more than 50 nations, each with its own distinct history. (photo by Vince Crawley)

The U.S. Africa Command was a concept long in the making prior to the February 2007 announcement of its creation.

Beginning with Morocco — which in 1787 became the first nation to establish diplomatic relations with the newly independent United States — U.S. strategic and defense interests have included Africa. However, before 2007, defense engagement with the continent of Africa was viewed as an extension of geo-political environments elsewhere, and therefore not a priority in its own right.[1] The command’s establishment was partly a recognition of the growing unsuitability of this approach, as well as the realization that long-term U.S. security objectives would be better served through a dedicated geographic combatant command exercising sustained security engagement with the nations and regional organizations of Africa.

The U.S. military certainly has not been a stranger in Africa, although throughout U.S. history the vast majority of military activities were comparatively small-scale, shorter term in duration, and limited in their objectives. [2] Some of the earliest U.S. military actions were against Barbary pirates along the North African coast in 1801-05, and again in 1815. In the early and mid-1800s, U.S. ships sometimes took part in anti-slavery patrols off the west coast of the African continent. In 1912, the U.S. Army assigned approximately five African American officers to train a Liberian border force.[3]

The onset of World War II saw northern Africa serve as a battleground of the European theater.

In 1997, the first year of the African Crisis Response Initiative peacekeeper training, Senegalese soldiers train with U.S. Special Forces at Camp Thies. Photo by Vince Crawley for Stars and Stripes

Tens of thousands of U.S. troops fought against German-led Axis powers in Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia. Today the graves of 2,841 Americans are honored at the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in the ancient city of Carthage.[4]

After World War II, U.S. military engagement with Africa was principally viewed through a Cold War lens.[5] U.S. troops were stationed in Morocco (including Nouasseur Air Base near Casablanca, Rabat Salé Air Base, and Port Lyautey, north of Rabat, until the early 1960s) ,  and Libya (Wheelus Air Base near Tripoli until 1970), where they focused on dissuading Soviet threats.[6] From the end of World War II through the 1970s, there also was a large communications relay facility, Kagnew Station, in Asmara, Ethiopia, which today is in Eritrea. The facility was at the edge of the Ethiopian mountains just inland from the Red Sea and in the early 1970s housed 1,900 personnel and 1,600 family members. Fighting related to the Eritrea’s secession from Ethiopia led to a dramatic staff reduction in the early 1970s and an American departure by the late 1970s, in part because new technologies limited the facility’s importance.[7]

The Noolays emergency feeding center, Bardera, Somalia, January 1993. Noolays means "place of life." Photo by Vince Crawley

Discussions began in the 1980s and 1990s about creating an organization focused solely on military relations with the nations of Africa. This was spurred in part by the U.S. Defense Department’s 1983 Unified Command Plan, which assigned responsibility for military-to-military relations with African countries. But the initial organization was a patchwork, with Africa split between initially four, and later three, U.S. regional headquarters.[8]The newly created U.S. Central Command was assigned to work with Horn of Africa nations; U.S. European Command was assigned with the majority of African nations; U.S. Pacific Command was assigned with the island nations in the Indian Ocean (and, for a time U.S. Atlantic Command worked with island nations in the Atlantic). However, none of these headquarters had Africa as a primary or even secondary focus. Consequently engagements tended to be episodic, reactive, short-term, and limited in their objectives.

Military students attend an outdoor class at a U.S.-funded non-commissioned officers academy in Jinja, Uganda, in 2008. (Photo by Vince Crawley)

With the end of the Cold War in 1989-91 and the subsequent uncertainty and localized conflicts that followed, the United States found itself intervening in a number of African crises.[9] In the early 1990s, U.S. troops took part in evacuations of American Embassies in Liberia, Somalia, Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo), and Sierra Leone.[10] In 1992, U.S. military aircraft transported thousands of Angolans as part of wider United Nations support to that nation’s first elections. In Somalia, widespread famine led to a large-scale U.S. deployment in late 1992. Initially sent to guard humanitarian shipments, the U.S. and U.N. missions controversially evolved into the use of force to intervene in hopes of reducing Somalia’s inter-clan conflict. The U.S. role in Somalia is widely associated with the October 1993 battle in Mogadishu that killed 18 U.S. soldiers and hundreds of Somalis, resulting in a U.S. withdrawal. However, Operation Provide Relief, the U.S. military humanitarian airlift to Somalia, also saved an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 lives.[11]

Children play on the wreckage of a U.S. helicopter shot down three weeks earlier in Mogadishu, Somalia, October 1993. Photo by Vince Crawley for Stars and Stripes

Even as international forces were withdrawing from Somalia, the nation of Rwanda erupted into ethnic violence and the genocidal murder of up to 1 million people. When hundreds of thousands of ethnic Hutu fled to the neighboring Lake Kivu region in former Zaire, widespread cholera led to the brief deployment of a EUCOM task force in the summer of 1994 that brought fresh water into overcrowded refugee camps.[12]

These served to demonstrate the shortcoming of previous U.S. approaches to African military engagement. Somalia and Rwanda led to ever-wider discussion of the appropriate role for the U.S. military in Africa. American public opinion was hesitant to repeat any Somalia-scale U.S. involvement, but the massive death toll of the Rwandan genocide highlighted the moral consequences of inaction. African leaders were grappling with the same issues, and their discussions centered on finding African-led security solutions.[13] The Organization of African Unity, a precursor to today’s African Union, continued to evolve as an organization increasingly seeking to play a meaningful role in African security and stability.

In 1997, U.S. special operations troops began training African peacekeepers as part of a U.S. Department of State-announced program called the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI).[14] ACRI emphasized Africa’s role in addressing regional security, but offered U.S. and international training and logistics assistance.[15] Senegal and Uganda were the first nations to participate, followed by Malawi, Mali, and Ethiopia (as well as Ghana in cooperation with Belgian and Ghanaian trainers).[16] Since then, the program has evolved into the Department of State’s African Contingency Operations Training Assistance (ACOTA) program. Between ACRI and ACOTA, the U.S. has trained approximately 170,000 African peacekeepers from close to two dozen nations.[17]

Rwandan Hutu refugee in Goma, Zaire (now DR Congo) , 1994. Photo by Vince Crawley for Stars and Stripes

Along with peacekeeper training, the year 1997 also saw the beginning of military academic discussion on the importance of Africa and the creation of a U.S. Africa command.

“DoD [the Department of Defense] must have a regional or sub-unified command that can provide a fulltime focus on Africa,” Dr. C. William Fox, a military physician and lieutenant colonel, wrote in a widely circulated study.[18] “DoD can no longer afford simply to wait and react to the next crisis in Africa. A regional command separate from the U.S. European Command or the U.S. Central Command should be established to evaluate, plan and execute regional military exercises and operations.” [19]  Fox’s monograph, titled “Military Medical Operations in Sub-Saharan Africa: The DoD ‘Point of the Spear’ for a New Century,” was selected as a “Distinguished Essay” in a 1997 Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff writing competition. Fox went on to retire as a brigadier general.

In 1998, the U.S. Air Force Academy published a 70-page study by Army Colonel Dan Henk, titled “Uncharted Paths, Uncertain Vision: U.S. Military Involvements in Sub-Saharan Africa in the Wake of the Cold War.”[20] Henk, too, recommended a unified command focused on Africa. “Largely as an accident of Cold War history, different parts of Africa fall within the area of responsibility of four separate unified commands,” he wrote.[21] “ … This situation practically guarantees that policy implementation will take very different forms in differing unified commands. The situation makes it difficult to rationalize U.S. military involvements in regional/ subregional organizations. There should be one unified command for Africa and its surrounding islands.”[22]

A mother and child at the Noolays emergency feeding center, Bardera, Somalia, January 1993. Photo by Vince Crawley

Through the mid-1990s, EUCOM and the Defense Department, encouraged by the House International Relations Committee of the U.S. Congress, explored ways to create an Africa security studies institute. This military academic institution would be comparable to regional defense centers focused on areas such as Europe, Asia, and Latin America. In March 1998, President Bill Clinton made a major trip to sub-Saharan Africa to discuss promoting U.S.-Africa partnership based on mutual respect and mutual interest. During the visit, he mentioned the establishment of a security studies center for Africa, patterned after EUCOM’s George C. Marshall European Center for Security Studies in Germany. In March 1999, the Pentagon formally established the Africa Center for Strategic Studies (ACSS) in the Washington, D.C., area.[23] The center hosts academic programs of African and international students and security professionals “to identify and resolve security challenges in ways that promote civil-military cooperation, respect for democratic values, and safeguard human rights,” according to the ACSS mission statement.[24]

In 2000, Parameters, the journal of the U.S. Army War College, published an article explicitly calling for the creation of a U.S. command for Africa, titled, “A CINC for Sub-Saharan Africa? Rethinking the Unified Command Plan”[25] (the acronym CINC referred to “commander in chief,” the former title of four-star regional military commanders). The author, Commander Richard Catoire, focused his essay on the idea of creating an AFRICOM-like organization. “U.S. policy alone cannot solve Africa’s many problems, nor even necessarily secure all of America’s regional interests there,” Catoire wrote, “but a unified command with exclusive responsibility for Sub-Saharan Africa would provide many advantages. It would bring the constant attention of senior U.S. military planners to African security issues and facilitate long-term, coherent programs to shape the regional environment.”[26]

AFRICOM's civilian deputy, Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, meets staff at a U.S.-funded HIV clinic near Lusaka, Zambia, in 2008. (Photo by Vince Crawley)


The September 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States led to a reassessment of U.S. security worldwide, including in Africa, which already had been the scene of two deadly U.S. Embassy terror bombings in 1998, in Kenya and Tanzania. In 2002, CENTCOM deployed Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa[27] to Camp Lemonnier,[28] a former French base in Djibouti. In the trans-Sahara region, EUCOM expanded special operations training with local militaries in support of State Department programs that sought to counter violent ideologies, first under the 2002 Pan-Sahel Initiative, then the 2005 Trans- Sahara Counter-Terrorism Partnership.[29]

Discussion of a possible Africa command moved from scholarly journals to the mainstream news media. “No AFRICOM Yet,” noted a 2002 Voice of America story,[30] outlining the creation of a U.S.-based NORTHCOM. “Africa Command? Time Might Be Right for Its Creation,” read a U.S. magazine headline in 2004.[31] Within Africa, decades of colonial legacy meant that media discussions were largely against any U.S. military presence. However, in mid-2004, a Nigerian newspaper columnist wrote an editorial called, “The Long Overdue U.S. Africa Command”[32] that pointed out regional benefits such an organization might bring.

By 2006, the EUCOM commander noted that members of the EUCOM staff in Stuttgart, Germany, were spending 65 to 70 percent  their time focused on Africa issues.[33] [34] Discussions for a possible Africa command moved from the academic to the policy arena.  In 2002, the Organization of African Unity was formally superseded by the African Union, with a stronger mandate for promoting peace and security among member states.[35] In its growing coordination with the AU, the EUCOM staff increasingly found itself working with CENTCOM nations, including Ethiopia, where the AU was seated.[36]

Nelson Mandela's former cell, Robben Island, South Africa, October 2010. Photo by Vince Crawley

In an interview published in January 2006 by Army Times, an independent commercial newspaper, defense officials were quoted saying there were serious internal talks underway to create some form of new command arrangement for U.S. military interests in Africa.[37] Options included creating a separate command, the article said, but another possible scenario would include expanding the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa, based in Djibouti, so that its regional scope covered the entire continent.

In July 2006, former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld attended a briefing on options to revise the Unified Command Plan. After being apprised of potential new command arrangements in Africa, he directed the creation of a separate Africa Command.[38] Unlike the proposal outlined in the Army Times article, the concept initially approved by Rumsfeld would have left the Horn of Africa, including the CJTF-HOA task force, under U.S. Central Command.[39]

In mid-August, the Joint Staff directed EUCOM form a planning team to advise on requirements for establishing a new command arrangement for U.S. military interests on the African continent.[40] Pre-decisional discussions included whether to include Horn of Africa nations into the new command, and how to best organize the command to support non-military agencies of the U.S. government working in Africa. Internal documents sometimes used the term USAFCOM while others used AFRICOM. At the time, EUCOM’s deputy commander was General William Ward, who the following summer would be nominated as the first commander of U.S. Africa Command. “It’s okay if it doesn’t look like other COCOMs [combatant commands],” Ward told planners, according to the minutes of an August 25, 2006, meeting.[41] He stressed looking for “innovative processes” rather than a traditional military headquarters structure. The EUCOM team’s deadline was September 15.

The ongoing study for the command was mentioned by Rumsfeld and then Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Peter Pace at a Pentagon Town Hall meeting September 22, 2006. Rumsfeld and Pace noted it was unclear whether the study would recommend a separate command or a sub-unified command.[42] [43]

Memorial Day dawn at the North Africa American Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia, 2010. Photo by Vince Crawley

Rumsfeld was soon briefed that the EUCOM team recommended creating a separate command with a non-traditional structure, focused on traditional military tasks as well as an emphasis on non-combat military roles such as capacity building and theater security cooperation. The planners recommended integrating staff members from non-military agencies of the federal government into the command, not as liaisons but as actual staff members, to provide more effective military support to non-defense agencies of the U.S. government.[44] In an initiative that would later haunt AFRICOM, the EUCOM planners strongly recommended having a portion of the command’s offices located within Africa, with personnel accompanied by their families, as a way to demonstrate long-term U.S. commitment to Africa’s security and stability.

In late October 2006, Rumsfeld approved the creation of an interagency Implementation Planning Team in Washington, D.C., that included representatives of the U.S. Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other federal agencies working in Africa.[45] This team worked through November and outlined the AFRICOM command structure, to include recommending a non-military deputy, and half-military, half-civilian staff. In early December 2006, after Rumsfeld announced he would resign as secretary of defense, he forwarded the AFRICOM recommendation to then-President George W. Bush, who on December 15 approved the creation of a separate command for Africa.[46]

A military honor guard in Sekondi, Ghana, in 2009. (Photo by Vince Crawley)


On February 6, 2007, the new defense secretary, Robert Gates, publicly announced to the Senate Armed Services Committee that President Bush had given authority to create the new Africa Command. “The president,” Gates testified, “has decided to stand up a new, unified combatant command, Africa Command, to oversee security cooperation, building partnership capability, defense support to nonmilitary missions, and, if directed, military operations on the African continent. This command will enable us to have a more effective and integrated approach than the current arrangement of dividing Africa between Central Command and European Command, an outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War.” Gates added, “This department [Department of Defense] will consult closely with the Congress and work with our European and African allies to implement this effort.”[47]

The same day, the White House issued a statement by President Bush, who emphasized, “This new command will strengthen our security cooperation with Africa and create new opportunities to bolster the capabilities of our partners in Africa. Africa Command will enhance our efforts to bring peace and security to the people of Africa and promote our common goals of development, health, education, democracy, and economic growth in Africa.” The White House announcement also contained a reference to the U.S. interest in having AFRICOM offices in proximity to African regional leaders. “We will be consulting with African leaders to seek their thoughts on how Africa Command can respond to security challenges and opportunities in Africa,” the announcement said. “We will also work closely with our African partners to determine an appropriate location for the new command in Africa.”[48]

The Great Mosque at Kairouen, Tunisia, August 2008. Photo by Vince Crawley

Throughout 2006, U.S. news media widely reported on the behind-the-scenes planning to create AFRICOM.[49] Still, the February 2007 public announcement caught many African leaders and opinion leaders by surprise. News media, public figures and political commentators began wide discussion and speculation about the embryonic command.[50] Much debate focused on potential locations in Africa for the command.[51] This, in turn, was often interpreted as a quest for basing locations for numerous U.S. combat units. Consultation visits were misinterpreted as hunts for basing, and several public figures made strong statements rejecting basing rights for U.S. combat troops. Shortly after the command was activated in October 2007, Ward and his staff made the decision to postpone the headquarters location question indefinitely because it distracted from the primary mission of the command, which was to build relationships and sustained programs.[52]

Ward’s first visit as commander of AFRICOM was to the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, on November 8, 2007.[53] “The United States is linked to Africa by history, culture, economics, and a respect for human dignity,” Ward told African Union reporters during a news conference. “Africa and its island nations comprise a continent full of promise and unlimited potential. My goal as commander of U.S. AFRICOM is to build an enduring organization — our efforts are committed to sustained and focused engagement that benefits both the citizens of the countries of Africa and the United States.”

The issue of basing and headquarters location continues to persist in discussions about AFRICOM, and likely will linger for years to come. During his address to the Ghanaian Parliament in June 2009, President Barack Obama spoke at length about U.S. partnership in Africa.[54] “We welcome the steps that are being taken by organizations like the African Union and ECOWAS to better resolve conflicts, to keep the peace, and support those in need. And we encourage the vision of a strong, regional security architecture that can bring effective, transnational forces to bear when needed. America has a responsibility to work with you as a partner to advance this vision, not just with words, but with support that strengthens African capacity,” President Obama said.

“… And that’s why we stand ready to partner through diplomacy and technical assistance and logistical support,” he continued, adding, “… And let me be clear: Our Africa Command is focused not on establishing a foothold in the continent, but on confronting these common challenges to advance the security of America, Africa, and the world.”

[1] For a discussion of U.S.-Africa policy at the end of the Cold War, yet prior to the U.S./UN involvement in Somalia that began in late 1992, see Michael Clough, “Free at Last? U.S. Policy Toward Africa and the End of the Cold War” (New York:  Council on Foreign Relations Press, 1992)

[2] For examples, see U.S. Department of State’s “U.S.-Africa Chronology: Half a century of official ties, four and a half centuries of engagement” or

[3] Harrison Akingbade, “U.S. Liberian Relations During World War II” Phylon, Volume 46 Number 1 (Atlanta University 1985). The Liberian government, fearing growing territorial pressure by Great Britain and France in 1908 approached the administration of President Theodore Roosevelt seeking a protectorate treaty with the United States. However, such a protective treaty was not adopted. See Samuel Flagg Beamis, “A Diplomatic History of the United States” (New York; Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1961) pages 572-574. In 1910 the administration of President William Howard Taft recommended to the U.S. Congress the establishment of a U.S. Navy coaling station on the Liberian coast. Liberia was prepared to grant basing rights, but the Congress did not act on the recommendation. Two years later, in 1912, the Taft administration sent approximately five black military officers to Liberia to help reorganize the Liberian Frontier Force, which had been established in 1908. At the time, European nations had colonized neighboring regions, and Liberia posed an inviting target for European colonial expansion.

[4] As well as 3,724 names on the Wall of the Missing. See the American Battle Monument Commission website at:

[5] On the other hand, a significant consequence of World War II within U.S. society was the impact that service overseas in the then-segregated U.S. Army had on African Americans and the Civil Rights movement. “[B]eing called upon to fight in a war whose express purpose was to defeat the Nazi racial state had tremendous implications for the advance of civil rights,” wrote Maria Höhn and Martin Klimke in “A Breath of Freedom: The Civil Rights Struggle, African American GIs, and Germany”  (New York, Palgrave Macmillan, 2010)  page 21.  Höhn and Klimke also quote a 1942 editorial from the NAACP’s The Crisis newspaper, “We must say that the fight against Hitlerism begins in Washington, D.C., … If the ghettos in Poland are evil so are the ghettos in America.” (Höhn and Klimke, page 19). Black service members found themselves so well treated by Europeans, who viewed them as Americans, not as people of color, that their demands for equal treatment grew significantly in the immediate postwar era. President Truman on July 26, 1948, issued Executive Order 9981 desegregating the U.S. armed forces (see at the Truman Library, accessed July 30, 2011). Military veteran Oliver Brown agreed to let the NAACP include his daughter as part of the landmark 1954 “Brown v. the Board of Education” decision by the U.S. Supreme Court that found segregated schools to be unconstitutional (Höhn and Klimke, page 37).  In addition, there were close links between the U.S. Civil Rights movement and the African independence movements of the 1950s and ’60s. When Ghana became the first sub-Saharan African colony to declare its independence on March 6, 1957, the event was attended by prominent U.S. African-American leaders, attending included Nobel laureate and U.N. Undersecretary for Special Political Affairs Ralph Bunche; Senator Charles Diggs; Rep. Adam Clayton Powell Jr.; Mordecai Johnson, the first black president of Howard University; international labor activist Maida Springer; Horace Mann Bond, the first black president of Lincoln University and the father of Julian Bond; Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King; and Lucille Armstrong, representing her husband, Louis, who could not attend. See John Dramani Mahama, vice president of Ghana, “The Bridge Between Ghana and Black America,” The Root (March 6, 2011) (accessed July 30, 2011).

[6] Though in North Africa, these facilities were part of U.S. European Command. They focused on protecting NATO’s southern flank, and the deserts of North Africa afforded combat flight training opportunities for NATO forces. See for example the page on Wheelus Air Base at  (; accessed July 24, 2011). In the summer of 2007, during a short-lived relaxation of diplomatic relations between the United States and Libya’s Qadhafi regime, the Libyan government allowed the Air Force to repatriate the remains of 72 American family members, mostly infants, who had been buried at Wheelus Air Base between 1958 and 1969. See “Remains of Air Force family members buried in Libya returned to the U.S.”  The Associated Press, August 7, 2007. Also see Walter J. Boyne, “The Years at Wheelus,” Air Force Magazine, January 2008, pages 62-64.

[7] See John R. Rasmuson, “A History of Kagnew Station and American Forces in Eritrea,” (United States Army Garrison Kagnew Station, Asmara, Ethiopia, 1973). The book, and additional information, are available at the unofficial website (accessed 30 July, 2011).

[8] Ronald H. Cole et al. “The History of the Unified Command Plan 1946-1993” (Washington D.C., Joint History Office, Office of the Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, 1995) pages 33-34, 64-66, 77-85.

[9] For a comprehensive list of U.S. Air Force humanitarian missions in Africa from 1947 to 1994, see Daniel L. Haulman, “The United States Air Force and Humanitarian Airlift Operations 1947-1994” (Washington, D.C. Air Force History and Museums Program, 1998) Chapter 4, “Africa,” pages 277-336. Haulman provides data and background on 79 separate airlift missions.

[10] Center for Defense Information “U.S. Military Deployments/Engagements 1975-2001” Center for Defense Information (Washington D.C. 2002) (accessed July 24, 2011).

[11]  Walter S. Poole “The Effort to Save Somalia August 1992 – March 1994” (Washington D.C., Joint History Office, Office of the Chairman of the Joint chiefs of Staff, 1995) There don’t appear to be reliable estimates of the numbers of Somalis potentially saved by the U.S. and United Nations airlift and security convoys. Up to 350,000 people died from lack of food in 1992 before the U.S. intervention. Under Operation Provide Relief, U.S. transport planes in August 1992 began delivering emergency food rations to Somalia and to Somali refugee centers in Wajir, Kenya. Through December 1992, U.S. aircraft delivered more than 19,000 tons of food to Somalia and Kenya.

[12]  Nancy J. Walker and Larry Hanauer, “EUCOM and Sub-Saharan Africa,” Joint Force Quarterly (Spring 1997) pages 103-107. (accessed July 25, 2011)

[13] Major Barthelemy Diouf, Senegalese Army, “Supporting the African Crisis Reaction Initiative,” Army Logistician, Volume 34, Number 3 (Fort Lee, Virginia, May-June 2002) pages 26-29.

[14] Vince Crawley, “Continent Crossroad: U.S. Special Forces quietly work front lines of diplomacy in Africa,” Stars and Stripes, (Darmstadt, Germany, October 5, 1997) Sunday magazine pages 1, 4-6.

[15] See Dan Henk and Steven Metz, “The United States and Transformation in African Security: The African Crisis Response Initiative and Beyond,” Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, December 5, 1997). On page vi, Henk and Metz outlined U.S. national interests in Africa as including: “Regional stability; access; information and warning; safety; a region free of weapons of mass destruction; a region free of sponsors or havens for transnational threats; comity and cooperation; freedom from egregious suffering; humane, managerially competent, and accountable governance; sustained economic development; and, unthreatened natural environment.”

[16] “FACT SHEET: African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI)” The White House, April 1, 1998.

[17] Department of State Office of the Inspector General, “Report of Inspection: The Bureau of African Affairs,” (Report Number ISP-I-09-63 August 2009), page 20. ACOTA and its precursors, the African Crisis Response Force and the African Crisis Response Initiative, had trained over 163,000 African peacekeepers from 1997 through the end of fiscal year 2008, according to the IG report.

[18] C. William Fox Jr. “Military Medical Operations in Sub-Saharan Africa: The DOD ‘Point of the Spear’ for a New Century,” National Defense University Essays on Strategy Volume XV (monograph originally published June 24, 1997); also posted at

[19] Fox, page 22

[20] Dan Henk, “Uncharted Paths, Uncertain Vision: U.S. Military Involvements in Sub-Saharan Africa in the Wake of the Cold War,” USAF Institute for National Security Studies, (U.S. Air Force Academy, Colorado Springs, Colorado, March 1998).

[21] Henk, page 14

[22] Henk, pages 42-43

[23] Africa Center for Strategic Studies, “History,” Africa Center for Strategic Studies, (accessed July 26, 2011).

[24] Africa Center for Strategic Studies, (accessed July 26, 2011).

[25] Richard G. Catoire, “A CINC for Sub-Saharan Africa? Rethinking the Unified Command Plan,” Parameters, Volume XXX, Number 4 (Carlisle, Pennsylvania, Winter 2000-01) pages 102-117.

[26] Catoire, pages 102-117

[27] Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) Fact Sheet, (accessed July 26, 2011).

[28] For several years, Americans misspelled the name of Camp Lemonnier, using just one “n” instead of of two. The error was corrected in 2009. The camp is named for French Brigadier General Émile-René Lemonnier, a military officer and scholar (in the 1930s he wrote treatises on space flight and the history of Indochina). Serving in Vietnam in 1945, after being overrun, he was beheaded by sword for refusing a Japanese demand to order his troops to surrender unconditionally. See Lemonnier’s biography on the unofficial site of the French War College, (original in French – accessed July 26, 2011).

[29] See U.S. Africa Command Fact Sheet: The Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, (accessed July 26, 2011).

[30] Alex Belida, “No AFRICOM Yet,” Voice of America, April 2002, as reported on Belida’s blog, Regrets Only: An Africa Journal, (accessed May 6, 2008). The report was based on an April 2, 2002, news briefing by Michael Westphal, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs. The full transcript is online at (accessed July 26, 2011).

[31] Gordon Lubold, “Africa Command? Time Might Be Right for Its Creation, Some Say.” Armed Forces Journal, vol. 142, no. 5, Dec. 2004, pp. 12-13

[32] David Asonye Ihenacho, “The Long Overdue US Africa Command,” Nigeria World (Monday, June 7, 2004) (accessed August 17, 2006). The column notes that an article in The Punch of Lagos on June 2, 2004, describes a U.S. aircraft carrier deployment to the Gulf of Guinea as “a strategic move that is not unconnected with its (US’s) huge investments in the region.” Ihenacho then writes, “But on a closer reading it seemed that what the Pentagon was trying to accomplish was to find a clever way to acknowledge the fact that the continent of Africa has indeed become a key-player in the global war against terrorism.”  The deployment of the aircraft carrier was part of an exercise called “Summer Pulse 04,” a Navy exercise to deploy seven carriers simultaneously. According to Agence France Press, a U.S. diplomat in Nigeria, quoted on condition of not being identified, said the deployment was not intended as a means of directly protecting privately operated oil facilities, but that U.S. forces would seek greater cooperation with Nigerian and other African forces. See AFP, “U.S. navy plans ‘show of force’ off oil-rich West Africa” (Lagos, Nigeria, June 4, 2004). (accessed July 27, 2011).

[33]  Jim Garamone, “U.S. Cannot Walk Away From Africa, General in Charge of Ops on Continent Says” Interview with EUCOM General James Jones (American Forces Press Service, August 18, 2006)

[34] Marine Corps General James Jones, who served as commander of U.S. European Command from 2003 to 2006, often spoke to reporters about the growing importance of Africa. “Our strategy has been … to kind of act as, if you will, a coordinator between countries that have not really been able to work well together,” Jones said in a Defense Writers Group roundtable in Washington D.C. on March 26, 2004. He also emphasized, “We don’t have any U.S. forces committed to any kind of combat operations in Africa. The teams that we send out are purely training teams and advisory teams.” Eight months later, on November 9, 2004, Jones’ EUCOM deputy, Air Force General Charles Wald, also included remarks about Africa in a Defense Writers Group roundtable. “[T]he idea that Africa, it’s something we respond to when the crisis just gets to be so terrible you can’t stand it anymore , is probably the old world. We have to get ahead of it and start preventing it.”

[35] African Union, “AU in a Nutshell,” The African Union (accessed July 30, 2011)

[36] Jones, Defense Writers Group, March 26, 2004: “… the fact that six or seven countries of the Horn of Africa are in the Central Command doesn’t mean that European Command isn’t closely coordinating with CENTCOM to understand what’s going on there. … CENTCOM and EUCOM see the unified command line that separates us as a very soft line, and one that we should make sure doesn’t allow a seam which terrorists can operate simply because they know the European Command is on one side of the line and Central Command is on the other side.”

[37] Gordon Lubold, “Officials Look to Put Africa Under One Watchful Eye – Continent Now Split Between Two Commmands,” Army Times (Springfield, Virginia, January 23, 2006). The article said that expanding the CJTF-HOA staff would reduce the need for creating a new organization from the ground up. It also discussed the importance of including non-military viewpoints within the organization. “It should push to be more representative of other elements of national power besides the military,” said an unnamed Central Command official quoted in the article.

[38] Internal Defense Department memorandum provided to U.S. European Command as a background document for the AFRICOM Initial Planning Team.

[39] Ibid. The document said all subsequent planning efforts would require approval by the Secretary of Defense and the President, that the initial AFRICOM scope would be the nations of Africa then assigned to EUCOM, and that the reassignment of African nations from the CENTCOM region might be revisited.

[40] Internal document by U.S. European Command, “HQ USEUCOM Issue Paper For The Implementation of Africa Command (USAFCOM),” draft dated 8 September 2006.

[41] EUCOM internal document, informal staff notes of Operational Planning Team briefing to Deputy EUCOM Commander, dated August 25, 2006. The notes include the following statement to confirm the informal nature of the memo: “Disclaimer: The words attributed to individuals listed above may not be literal quotes.”

[42] Transcript, “Department of Defense Town Hall Meeting with Secretary Rumsfeld and Gen. Pace from the Pentagon,” September 22, 2006, excerpt posted at ; full transcript posted at .

[43] There are conflicting reports of how closely Rumsfeld followed the details of the creation of AFRICOM. He apparently did not mention the subject in his memoirs

[44] “HQ USEUCOM Strategic Concept Paper for the Implementation of Africa Command (USAFCOM)” September 15, 2006, Stuttgart, Germany. This and other pre-decisional documents are classified  “secret” due to the classification of the original order from the Joint Staff. In one document, EUCOM planners question the necessity of continued classification, because of the difficulty imposed on coordinating with foreign nations.

[45] Office of the Secretary of Defense, written response to questions to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, July 31, 2008, testimony of Ambassador Eric Edelman, undersecretary of defense for policy, responding to questions by Senator Joseph Biden. The written response said, in part, “DoD began discussion with the DOS and USAID regarding the establishment of a unified command for Africa in October 2006.  Both DOS and USAID were invited to participate in the IPT [Implementation Planning Team], which was tasked with developing the concept for USAFRICOM.  The Deputy Director of the IPT was a senior Foreign Service Officer who had recently completed a tour as the U.S. Ambassador to Lesotho.  DoD personnel were also joined by six other staff members from DOS and three from USAID.  A senior Public Diplomacy representative from the DOS Bureau of African Affairs took the lead on the IPT’s Strategic Communications Working Group in developing the Command concept roll-out and consultation plan. The plan included strategies for consultations with Congress, African nations, European partners, and NGOs prior to establishment of the command .  Due to senior leader scheduling challenges, some portions of the plan were not executed as originally envisioned, but all portions of the plan were ultimately executed. ”

[46] The presidential order was classified “secret,” though the decision to create the command was made public on February 6, 2007.

[47] Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Testimony Before the Senate Armed Services Committee, February 6, 2007,

[48] President George W. Bush archives; White House Press release, “President Bush Creates a Department of Defense Unified Combatant Command for Africa,” February 6, 2007, “ (Retrieved August 22, 2011)

[49] Headlines from August-September 2006, when the AFRICOM study was still underway, include: “A Command for Africa,” Time magazine, August 27, 2006; “DoD Mulls Proposed ‘Africa Command,'” Marine Corps Times, August 30, 2006; “New Africa Command Under Discussion at Pentagon,” VOA News, August 30, 2006; “Pentagon Official: DOD Weighing New African Command,” Stars and Stripes. September 6, 2006; and “America’s Africa Corps,” Asia Times, September 20, 2006.

[50] See, for example, Daniel Gordon, “The Controversy over AFRICOM,” BBC World Service Analysis, October 3, 2007.

[51] See, for example, Alex Last, “Nigerian doubts over Africom base,” BBC News, Abuja, Nigeria, November 20, 2007.

[52] Transcript, Ambassador Mary Carlin Yates, Foreign Press Center, New York, December 5, 2007, “Mission, not Location, is AFRICOM’s Goal, Deputy Tells Reporters in New York”; also, Nick Childs, “US shifts on Africom base plans,” BBC News, February 18, 2008

[53] Transcript, General William Ward, African Union news conference, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, November 8, 2007

[54] Transcript, President Barack Obama,”Remarks by President Obama to the Ghanaian Parliament,” Accra, Ghana, July 11, 2009.

(Vince Crawley began working with U.S. Africa Command in 2007. His previous work includes writing and editing for international audiences at the U.S. Department of State. From 1988 to 2005, he was a journalist reporting on international, diplomatic, and military events and policies for The European Stars and Stripes, for Defense Week, and as Pentagon reporter for Army Times and the Gannett Government Media Group.)


7 Responses

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  1. Umar Weswala said, on September 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm

    Thanks, Vince for this wonderful piece of information. Please visit my blog


    • Vince Crawley said, on September 11, 2011 at 4:28 pm

      Thanks for the link. You have a fascinating blog, especially the AFRICOM diary entries.
      I especially like when you wrote “I prefer to be referred to as a peace journalist” — in my years of traveling for newspapers, I sometimes described myself as a peace reporter instead of a war reporter.

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  3. Roger Pociask said, on October 13, 2011 at 4:01 pm

    Is the Item Below Vaild Food for Thought?

    From Time Magazine’s Online Blog: “Battleland – Where military intelligence is not a contradiction in terms”

    AFRICOM Gets Seriously . . . Nasty

    Posted by Thomas P. M. Barnett Wednesday, September 21, 2011 at 8:50 am

    In 2007, I wrote the first definitive piece for Esquire on the kernel code for Africom: namely, the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. Back then, I described it as essentially a non-kinetic force, or no “trigger pullers.” But the piece led off with a quick summary of a special ops event that occurred in conjunction with Ethiopia’s military intervention in Somalia. So when the deputy commander of CJTF-HOA said that the command had “never fired a shot in anger,” he was being truthful in a bureaucratic sense. Back then, HOA didn’t kill bad guys on the Horn, SOCCENT [Special Operations Command, Central Command] killed bad guys on the Horn.

    When the piece was published, it met up with a bit of an uproar, especially my prediction that – down the road – the US would be sprinkling more such small bases throughout Africa as the one I visited on the coast of Kenya. That mini-base (boots in the few dozen) almost exclusively worked the soft-power stuff, until the call came down and it became a short-term launching pad for SOF operations in southern Kenya (my lead in the piece).

    Well, WAPO comes out today with a piece saying that’s exactly what’s happening, with a big focus on drone operations.

    What’s sad here: AFRICOM was supposed to be different – the whole “3D” approach of diplomacy, development and defense, and in first few years it was. Now, word from everyone familiar with the command is this: AFRICOM’s focus is all kinetics and kills, with the soft stuff going by the wayside. Obama has become addicted to drone strikes like Clinton was with cruise missiles.

    All hard and no soft makes AFRICOM a nasty boy.

    • Vince Crawley said, on October 13, 2011 at 9:30 pm

      Is Tom Barnett’s article food for thought? Certainly. Mr. Barnett is a marvelous writer but bases his opinions on several premises that I wouldn’t agree with. Most significantly, he’s just wrong when he says “Now, word from everyone familiar with the command is this: AFRICOM’s focus is all kinetics and kills, with the soft stuff going by the wayside.” I’d certainly welcome Mr. Barnett to join the hundreds of journalists who have visited U.S. Africa Command to learn more about our work. To claim that AFRICOM is “all kinetics” does disservice to the hundreds of American military people who each month work alongside their African counterparts in exercises, partnership building conferences, community projects, health programs, and regional security cooperation activities. The AFRICOM website ( runs dozens of stories and photos each month about these missions, which are the core of our long-term work across the continent. I invite you to read General Carter Ham’s 2011 Commander’s Intent letter at's%20Intent.pdf – in it, he outlines the twofold purpose for U.S. Africa Command: “1) to protect the U.S. homeland, American citizens abroad, and our national interests from transnational threats emanating from Africa; and 2) through sustained engagement, to enable our African partners to create a security environment that promotes stability, improved governance, and continued development.” General Ham takes his words seriously and wrote the entire document himself.

      Mr. Barnett makes some assumptions that are common but not necessarily accurate. His September 2011 blog says that the “the kernel code” of U.S. Africa Command was the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. The task force, originally a CENTCOM organization, did not play a foundational role in developing AFRICOM, as my essay above illustrates. Mr. Barnett also refers to his original July 2007 Esquire article, which contains a conditional element that is key to understanding much of the early commentary about AFRICOM. Nearly everyone, including Barnett, perceived AFRICOM as a direct outgrowth of U.S. Central Command. In reality, it was an outgrowth of U.S. European Command. Then the DNA of EUCOM was fused with long strands of CENTCOM’s Horn of Africa operations, plus a bit of U.S. Southern Command’s long-term engagement strategies heaped in for good measure.
      “In addition to Camp Lemonnier,” Barnett wrote back in ’07, “three permanent contingency operating locations are up and running [with a few dozen personnel each] … If CJTF-HOA does become the model for Africa Command, the United States could easily be running a couple dozen such military bases on the continent by 2012.”

      That’s a big “if” he wrote about when he said “If CJTF-HOA does become the model.” Following Barnett’s line of thought, if CJTF-HOA didn’t become the model, then the outcome would be different and there would not necessarily be a quest for dozens of small bases. AFRICOM’s cooperative security location agreements are classified due to some host nation sensitivities, but there are many fewer of these agreements than there had been under EUCOM and CENTCOM. Dozens of locations for a few dozen people each would be fairly costly, would create diplomatic concerns and personnel security challenges, and still would be inefficient in working with the more than 40 African nations that have some kind of ongoing relationship with the U.S. military. The best guests are those who visit in manageable numbers for a short time to work alongside you on something that matters to you and then, very significantly, leave when this work is done. That perhaps epitomizes the so-called “soft power” approach, and it’s an effective model for working in Africa.

      The few defense writers who follow AFRICOM are nearly all multi-tour combat veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq, and they, along with many others, assumed AFRICOM was modeled on their more-familiar CENTCOM. However, it’s important to appreciate that AFRICOM was an evolution not of CENTCOM but of EUCOM, which has been using “soft power” and partnership capacity building since the summer of 1945, playing an important role in providing non-combat military support to diplomacy, which many would agree contributed meaningfully to Europe’s long-term stability and prosperity. Hence the initial, albeit unrealistic, enthusiasm for the EUCOM-led Africa Command transition team staff back in 2007 seeking to establish a headquarters presence on the continent, notably with families and community infrastructure, to build stable host-nation relationships and demonstrate long-term commitment to African security. We all know Africa’s response to the concept of foreign military staff on the continent, and, like so many military plans, that idea didn’t long survive first contact with reality. The growing headquarters staff in Stuttgart also figured out that commercial air route infrastructure actually makes it easier and cheaper to travel to all parts of Africa from Europe than from just about any location in Africa; it also makes it easier to maintain a continental perspective inasmuch as the command works to some extent with nearly all of the continent’s nations and regional organizations.

      Finally, Mr. Barnett’s blog and his 2007 Esquire article both have more of a tactical than strategic viewpoint of the military’s role in support of U.S. diplomacy. He says that CJTF-HOA, then a CENTCOM organization, could plausibly claim never to have fired a shot in anger because members of CENTCOM’s separate Special Operations component were the ones who “killed bad guys.” CJTF-HOA still exists, and it still does the kinds of work described by Mr. Barnett, but it is a joint task force led by a one-star commander, not a regional combatant command led by a four-star, U.S. Senate-confirmed commander who bears strategic responsibility to the secretary of defense and president for all U.S. military activity in Africa. Quite simply, AFRICOM isn’t a unit. It’s a headquarters for strategic planning and coordination.
      As I’m writing this, the lead stories and photos on the website include the following: A veterinary program in Tanzania; the Red Cross station at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti; a community visit to a school in Kenya; West Virginia National Guard mine-clearing training in Tunisia; furniture donation to a Djibouti school; the U.S. Air Forces Europe “Touch ‘n Go” band performing at a South African high school; Ghanaian soldiers practicing marksmanship in Devil Lakes, North Dakota, while visiting National Guard partners; Secretary of Defense Panetta laying out guidelines for ending the NATO mission in Libya; and AFRICOM commander General Carter Ham highlighting his priorities at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, D.C. That’s a fairly random but representative picture of what we do at U.S. Africa Command. As General Ham said in his recently revised mission statement: ” Africa Command protects and defends the national security interests of the United States by strengthening the defense capabilities of African states and regional organizations and, when directed, conducts military operations, in order to deter and defeat transnational threats and to provide a security environment conducive to good governance and development.”


  4. Roger Pociask said, on October 14, 2011 at 9:01 pm

    You are also a marvelous writer and U.S. Africa Command IS doing many good things in Africa. However, the fact remains, you fail to even acknowledge those proven and significant items that far outweigh and even contradict your prose. They include Special Operations Forces “Mini”-bases, a series of Drone Launching Pads, Secret Prisons and the announcement today of a small advisory combat deployment against the LRA… This mission creep is adding up to a definitive “militarization of the African continent” and it can no longer be called “alledged.” While your continued denial of the obvious closely sticks to the talking points required by your job description, it is in conflict with your previous long ago comment: “Africans aren’t stupid.” I would also contend that those one hundred U.S. soldiers soon to be on the gound near Uganda are at a greater risk because of your folly. I can only hope that these kinds of private debates occur behind closed doors in Stuttgart. It seems to me that just maybe General Ham has been inching slowly towards this direction… out of necessity? You must admit, things have changed dramatically from the first day that General “Kip” Ward left. We do agree on one thing for sure – Food for thought? Absolutely!


    • Vince Crawley said, on October 16, 2011 at 9:00 pm


      I’m aware of your strongly stated opinion about what you call the “folly” of how U.S. Africa Command portrays itself in public as well as in private dialogue. If I could sum up your position, it is something along the lines of: You believe AFRICOM is a good thing because it will establish a network of small bases across the continent to secure U.S. interests; you further believe we need to be honest about this or else we will not have set the public conditions for our personnel to be accepted, which in turn places them in harm’s way when U.S. troops inevitably deploy in large numbers into African communities to secure U.S. interests.

      While your concern for U.S. personnel is admirable, the fact of the matter is that there is really no need for U.S. personnel to maintain anything resembling a permanent presence in all but a few very isolated cases, where there is (and usually has been for quite some time) a very small sustained presence, well-integrated into host facilities. A case in point: You said some months back that our approach would significantly endanger U.S. ground forces once it came time to deploy them to Libya. However, as became obvious, the U.S. intent was to never have to deploy forces to Libya.

      The announcement of AFRICOM back in 2007 resulted in many people making assumptions that the U.S. military would seek large-scale basing for combat personnel. That was never intended, and in today’s fiscal climate, it’s even more far-fetched than it would have been four years ago. The U.S. government discussion today is to reduce spending and infrastructure, not to expand it. See for example the 2010 GAO report, “DOD Needs to Determine the Future of Its Horn of Africa Task Force”

      Do we have small teams working around the continent? You bet. We feature them daily on our Website. In almost all cases, they stay for a short while, then depart. . Are there a few sensitive locations we don’t talk about much? You bet. That has a lot to do with operational security and host-nation sensitivity. That’s also been taking place for years, and astute observers of AFRICOM will see these locations on our Website from time to time. There’s a big difference between “low key” and “secret.” So I wouldn’t call it a militarization. I know you and others might. But the U.S. government is very mindful that a significant U.S. military presence is not the best way to pursue U.S. long-term interests in Africa. Rather, the role of the military is to support diplomacy, not supplant diplomacy.

      For example, special operations folks have been operating in Africa for decades. They don’t really need “mini-bases” in that they work alongside host-nation forces. This is not Iraq or Afghanistan, and they are not running unilateral combat patrols.

      With respect to your allegation of “secret prisons” — the U.S. military isn’t running any. Period.

      With regard to unmanned aircraft, the article you referenced discussed flights out of Seychelles and Djibouti with plans for something in similar Ethiopia. The airport in Djibouti is a public international airport, and we’ve been operating out of there for nearly a decade. In Seychelles we’ve been quite public about our unmanned aircraft flying out of Victoria’s main international airport for the past two years. WE have a photo and story from the November 2009 media day posted on our website, under the title, “MQ-9s Take Center Stage in Victoria,” see — so I’m not sure that could be construed as secret. The MQ-9 Reaper in the photo is one of the same ones still flying today. We also included a photo on Page 61 of our history book. See — That said, we’re not going to talk very much about our unmanned aircraft program, in order to allow it to be effective.

      One of the interesting facets of the whole discussion about AFRICOM taking over, or “militarizing,” U.S. government policy in Africa, is that it assumes the Department of State and USAID and others will just sit back and allow the military to take over their work. Last I checked, secretaries of state are pretty strong-willed people. They aren’t about to let the U.S. military start walking all over their turf.

      Those are my views. I’d be very interested in hearing constructive recommendations and suggestions on how to improve or make more effective how AFRICOM is portrayed to public. We certainly don’t have all the answers, and we always welcome fresh ideas and new viewpoints.


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