Vince Crawley's Africa Blog

AFRICOM Founder & First Deputy, Robert Moeller, Passes Away in Washington, D.C.

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on March 31, 2011

STUTTGART, Germany - Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller in April 2010. U.S. Africa Command's first deputy to the commander for military operations passed away in Washington, D.C., March 28, 2011. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Vince Crawley)

I posted this yesterday on our main website,

STUTTGART, Germany, Mar 30, 2011— Retired Vice Admiral Robert T. Moeller, a founder of U.S. Africa Command who led early planning efforts, served as the director of the U.S. AFRICOM Transition Team and then as the first deputy to the commander for military operations, traveling to dozens of nations to coordinate partnerships between African and U.S. militaries, passed away March 28, 2011, in the Washington, D.C., area following a nearly two-year battle with Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s Disease. Moeller turned 60 in February and served 36 years in the United States Navy.

A memorial for friends and family was scheduled for April 1 in Alexandria, Virginia. In lieu of flowers, the family has requested donations to be made to the ALS Association of Greater Washington.

Moeller called his work with U.S. AFRICOM “the highlight of my career.” In an interview shortly before he departed the command in April 2010, Moeller said it was an honor “to have been involved in this since the earliest days and to see the command mature to where we are now and, more importantly, see the progress that we’re making with our African partners in … working with them to develop their capability and capacity to meet their challenges.”

In late July 2010, days before his retirement from the U.S. Navy, Foreign Policy magazine published a lengthy article by Moeller. In it, Moeller wrote: “As we conduct our daily and weekly activities across Africa we believe we share a long-term vision with our African partners: Sustained security programs can, over time, help support the conditions for economic development, social development, and improvements in health — so that people will continue to see progress in their lives and growing prosperity in their communities.”

In August 2006, the Defense Department directed U.S. European Command (EUCOM) to advise on establishing a new command arrangement for U.S. military interests in Africa. In September 2006, EUCOM recommended creating a new command for Africa.

Moeller at the time was serving as special assistant to the commander of U.S. Central Command when, in the early fall of 2006, he was asked to be executive director to the U.S. Africa Command Implementation Planning (more…)


AFRICOM Nominee Ham’s Written Q&A on African Security Issues

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on November 18, 2010

Below are written answers to questions submitted by the Senate Armed Services Committee to General Carter Ham as part of his confirmation process to be considered as the next commander of U.S. Africa Command. The 105 questions and answers were released by the committee during Ham’s confirmation hearing Nov. 18, 2010.

Gen Carter Ham, nominated to be the next commander of U.S. Africa Command, testifies before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Nov. 18, 2010

Some questions are procedural, but others are essay questions based on some of the top issues facing U.S. foreign policy in Africa. Ham’s answers often don’t have a lot of detail — he’s been deeply immersed in his current duties and says, if confirmed, he will spend time assessing AFRICOM programs and learning about Africa. But the questions themselves offer a wealth of detail on matters that include counter-terrorism and countering violent extremism, contractors, AQIM, Sudan, Somalia, and the Lord’s Resistance Army, inter-agency cooperation in Africa, counter-narcotics, security assistance, and health programs.

Asked about Africa’s challenges and opportunites, Ham replied, “As President Obama stated in his remarks in Ghana, ‘Africa’s future is up to Africans.’ Addressing these problems will require the coordinated actions of USAFRICOM, other U.S. government organizations, multilateral organizations, and our African partners. If confirmed, I will continue the overall approach of assisting our partners in the region based on shared interests seeking African solutions to African problems. I will also closely review and assess USAFRICOM’s existing programs, policies and strategy before taking any actions.”

The questions and answers were originally posted earlier today in a PDF document on the Senate Armed Services Committee website.


With Evening Discussion Groups, Americans at Camp Lemonnier Help Djiboutian Students Learn English

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on September 15, 2010
DJIBOUTI CITY – A Djiboutian girl answers a question while Americans Shane Junkert (right foreground) and Alex Rodriguez listen during an English discussion group in May 2010. (AFRICOM photo by Vince Crawley)

[Note: I was just in Djibouti for a brief visit. A few months back I was able to spend several days at U.S. AFRICOM’s Camp Lemonnier, and one of the evenings I went out with a group of volunteers who spend five nights a week visiting local schools to participate in U.S. Embassy-sponsored English Discussion Groups. Basically, if you have a free evening, you show up at the camp chapel at nightfall wearing civilian clothes, put your name on a list, and take a van into town to meet with classes of children or young adults, many of whom make a special trip to school in the evening for an opportunity to converse with native English speakers. Djibouti is a cultural crossroads. Somali is spoken in many of the homes, Arabic is a market and business language, French is a cultural and government language, and increasing numbers of Djiboutians are learning English to help their country become more of a regional and global trading and trans-shipment center.

DJIBOUTI CITY - U.S. Navy personnel Raul Barrientos and Dale Paragili lead Djiboutian students in an evening English language discussion group at the Alpha school May 5, 2010. (Photo by Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command)

On my visit to the Alpha School one evening in May 2010, I tried to keep my journalist hat on, observing from the sidelines while the young military personnel interacted with the students, who were middle school and high school aged. The Djiboutian teens got to pick the conversation topics, and they focused almost exclusively on relationships and gender politics in a fascinating culture that seems to include both ancient traditions and an assertive attitude among many young women that can best be described as feisty. At Djiboutian government and business offices earlier that day I had met with several strong-willed women who left no doubt that they were in charge and intended to be effective. One of them opined that women-to-women meetings were really the only way to get something worthwhile accomplished.

After dark I found myself with a small vanload of Americans at the Alpha School, not knowing what to expect from this so-called English Discussion Group. To set the agenda, a young person wrote on the blackboard: “Is the love exist in the world or not? Yes, why? No, Why?” The grammar wasn’t perfect, but the question is timeless. At one point in the middle of the evening, one of the young ladies turned to me in the midst of a discussion about marrying for love or money, and asked my opinion on whether there are cases of men who marry for money even if there is no love. I tried to find the tone of parental all-knowingness that I use with my own 12-year-old, but suspect I came across as just another out-of-it foreigner.

DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti - Raul Barrientos. a U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, leads Djiboutian students in an evening English language discussion group at the Alpha school May 5, 2010. (Photo by Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command)

With Evening Discussion Groups, Americans at Camp Lemonnier Help Djiboutian Students Learn English Story and photos by Vince Crawley

DJIBOUTI CITY, Djibouti — Five evenings a week, a handful of American military volunteers from Camp Lemonnier put on civilian clothes and take a van into the city to visit Djiboutian classrooms and take part in English conversation groups that help support the U.S. Embassy by providing Djiboutian students a rare opportunity to converse with native-English speakers.

Omar Mahamoud Ismail, director of the Alpha School, explained that his students are glad for a chance to try out their English with Americans.   “There is a nice perception between the Americans and the students,” Ismail explained, “so they do well with each other.” The school has 400 students between the ages of 12 and 30. Several dozen of them made a special trip to the school this particular Wednesday evening to take part in the program, called English Discussion Group. The walls of Ismail’s tiny office were covered with printouts of English language nursery rhymes. An electric fan chopped through the hot humid air. Electricity isn’t reliable in this part of town and the school can’t afford a generator, Ismail said. However, there was no electicity outage during the Americans’ visit, and the classrooms with wooden benches remained illuminated by dim bare bulbs.

DJIBOUTI CITY - Omar Mahamoud Ismail, director and English teacher at the Alpha School in Djibouti, in his office in May 2010. (U.S. Africa Command photo by Vince Crawley)

Camp Lemonnier last year had 360 volunteers who donated 6,000 volunteers to take part in the English Discussion Groups, said Master Sergeant John Roxbury of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa. Usually about four to six volunteers show up for each of the Sunday-through-Thursday evening sessions (Friday and Saturday are the weekend in this predominantly Muslim country).
Djibouti is a small nation on the African side of the Red Sea, a cultural crossroads since the beginning of a human history. A former colony of France, the French language is widely spoken. The language at home is predominantly Somali or Afar, depending on a family’s cultural background. In the marketplace and in business, Arabic is widely spoken. Younger Djiboutians increasingly are learning English as their country seeks to be a regional trading hub.   Participants in the English Discussion Group visit different schools each evening, with the schools selected by the U.S. Embassy.
Shane Junkert, a Navy Petty Officer Second Class, said he’d already volunteered more than 60 hours since November. The discussion group, he explained, was a good opportunity to interact with local Djiboutians.   The students, Junkert said, select the topics they want to talk about. During this Wednesday evening, the mainly high-school-aged students wanted to talk about love and marriage, whether marriages should be arranged, whether people should marry for love or for money.

DJIBOUTI CITY - Djiboutian students and U.S. volunteers from Camp Lemonnier take part in an English discussion group in May 2010. (U.S. AFRICOM photo by Vince Crawley)

“If love exists in the world, then why do people always get divorced easily?” one student wanted to know.

“I don’t need a man,” proclaimed another young woman.

One teenaged boy wrote the discussion topics on the blackboard.

“At what age will you get married? Is it arranged?” asked one of the questions. “Why do women marry a rich man?” asked another.

“Is the love exist in the world or not? Yes, why? No, Why?” the boy wrote. Junkert helped correct the grammar to “Does the love exist … ?” Followed by an evening’s discussion of a question as old as humankind.

(Vince Crawley is Deputy Director of Public Affairs for U.S. Africa Command – U.S. AFRICOM)

At Hanna’s Orphans Home, ‘Big Sister’ Cares for more than 200 Kids in Ethiopia

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on September 13, 2010
Hanna with children

Hanna Teshome at Hanna's Orphans Home in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in August 2010.

Two of Hanna's more than 200 children pose for an after-school portait in August 2010.

(Note: I’ve visited orphanages in several countries and am familiar with the issues of children raised in institutional settings … most tellingly in an Eastern Europe orphanage where the babies remained spookily silent because, unlike infants in a family, they  had been left alone too often and had learned their cries would not be responded to. When I stopped by Hanna’s Orphans Home during a recent AFRICOM business trip to Ethiopia, I immediately noticed that the kids didn’t behave like institutionalized children. They sought attention from adults but weren’t starving for it. When we stopped in completely unannounced, they were playing games or doing homework, or clustering in little social circles to swap gossip. In short, they reminded me of afterschool kids just about anywhere else in the world.)

At Hanna’s Orphans Home, ‘Big Sister’ Cares for more than 200 Kids in Ethiopia

Story and photos by Vince Crawley

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia — At last count, Hanna Teshome had 233 children. Three call her “mother.” The other 230 call her “Tete,” which is Amharic for “big sister,” and they live in more than two dozen rented homes throughout Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa.

Nearly all of the children found their way to Hanna’s Orphans Home after their parents died of HIV/AIDS. A few have parents who are serving time in Ethiopian prisons. A few more have gravely ill parents unable to take care of them.

By living in rented homes instead of an orphanage, “they are living in the community,” Tete Hanna explained to visitors one recent August afternoon. “They will have a social life. They can say, ‘We have a house.’ I don’t want them to live in an institution.”

The children’s ages range from 2 to 26, and they are fed, clothed, housed and educated primarily by donations.

A youngster poses with jacket during Ethiopia's cool rainy season in August 2010.

The houses have televisions and usually a computer, and each home is run by a house mother. Older children take turns being house leaders, usually for two months at a time.

Nearly all the children attend school, and Hanna has an extensive library of textbooks. After classes her children gather in her school compound for homework, after-school games and socializing before making their way to their homes.

Older children attend university. As long as they keep their grades up they can stay with Hanna until they finish university or technical school, she said. So far more than 20 of Hanna’s children are graduates who’ve moved out to begin raising families of their own.

Hanna also is beginning to look into ways to care for the elderly.

Unlike many of Ethiopia’s orphans, Hanna’s children are not available for international adoption. Thousands of Ethiopian children are adopted internationally each year, (the U.S. Department of State reported 2,277 U.S. adoptions from Ethiopia for 2009), but not from Hanna’s Orphans Home. People have asked her, but Hanna said she’s firmly against it. “They have to be in their own country,” she insists of her children. “If anybody wants to help them, they can help us right here. They will stay here with their language and their culture. When they grow up they will help their own country.” (more…)

What They’re Reading in Addis Ababa

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on August 15, 2010

I’m in Addis Ababa for a few days and thought I’d share some headlines from this weekend’s edition of The Daily Monitor. Interesting insights into what people find important in the capital of Ethiopia and the seat of the African Union.

Front page:

The African Union calls for Cote D’Ivoire government and opposition to work for peace

The African Development Bank urges African nations to improve civil records, such as births, deaths and marriages.

“Peace Journey for Africa,” an NGO founded by two Ethiopian youths, won the 3rd annual youth Interfaith Peacebuilding Initiative award. The peace journeys involve groups of youth who travel by car to nearby countries, striking discussions about the consequences of civil war, civil right abuses and gender-based violence.

Coffee Review, billed as “the world’s leading coffee guide,” rated Ethiopia Nekisse coffee 96 out of 100, the publication’s highest rating so far this year. The brew isn’t cheap: $37.95 for a 12-ounce bag. (Ethiopians, by the way, make a strong claim to having given coffee to the rest of the world.)

Inside pages:

In Somalia, the fasting month of Ramadan brings heightened fear and costlier food amid fighting between government troops and Islamists.

“African Americans and Police … It’s complicated” An essay on racial profiling originally printed in the New York Times.

A Reuters report on South African labor union delaying a pending strike while the government tries to reach a wage deal.

A Reuters report from Algiers saying Al Qaeda in the Maghreb had been receiving support from Mali officials, based on an interview with an unnamed former militant.

Floods in China

Upcoming Afghan elections

WikiLeaks plans to release more secret Afghan war documents.

Plus features on: The Miss World Ethiopia contest; Ethiopian artist Tibebe Terffa; and updates on international stars and notables, from Paris Hilton to Arnold Schwarzenegger. The quote of the day comes from the late Eleanor Roosevelt: “This I know.This I believe with all my heart. If we want a free and peaceful world, if we want to make the deserts bloom and man grow to greater dignity as a human being — we can do it!”

AFRICOM Getting Ready for Memorial Day in Tunisia

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on May 30, 2010
Stone mason working on grave marker

CARTHAGE, Tunisia - Abdallah Lagahre, a Tunisian stone mason, refreshes gold leaf lettering on the grave stone of Medal of Honor recipient Private Nicholas Minue on May 28, 2010, at the North Africa American Cemetery outside of Tunis. (Photo by Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command)

I’m in Carthage, Tunisia, this weekend, getting ready for Memorial Day observances.  

Below is an article I filed for our website:
U.S. Military Cemetery in Carthage, Tunisia, Prepares for Memorial Day  

By Vince Crawley, U.S. Africa Command Public Affairs
CARTHAGE, Tunisia – Less than a mile from the 2,000-year-old ruins of ancient Carthage, Tunisian groundskeepers were working Friday, May 28, 2010, under a bright Mediterranean sun to prepare for Memorial Day observances to honor the 2,841 Americans buried in Carthage, as well as the thousands more who gave their lives in the North Africa campaigns of World War II that laid the bloody groundwork for the Allied liberation of Europe.  

Surrounded by fig, cypress and eucalyptus trees, the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial lies in a quiet open space on Roosevelt Road, between the Tunis airport and the tourist beaches, arts boutiques and historic ruins of the Tunisian coast.  

The grounds total about 27 acres, with a burial area about the size of four football or soccer fields, bounded on one side by the Wall of the Missing that includes 3,724 names. Bells from the cemetery’s chapel play patriotic anthems, “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” and “America the Beautiful,” while calls to prayer from nearby mosques echo among the graves. The cemetery is easy to spot on Internet satellite maps — due east of Tunis airport, it is the rectangle of bright green kikuyu grass that stands out against the darker olive-colored vegetation. Zooming in shows the orderly rows of crosses and Stars of David, all facing to the southeast.  

Abdallah Lagahre, a stone mason whose job is to tend the grave markers, quietly spent several hours in the Friday afternoon heat refreshing the gold leaf on the headstone of Private Nicholas Minue, the single Medal of Honor recipient buried in Carthage.
Born in Sedden, Poland, Minue has a “typical American story” of an immigrant who serves his adopted country, explained Carlos Castello, superintendant of the North Africa American Cemetery. Castello himself is another variation of the American story — son of Cuban and Mexican parents, born in the United States, living overseas with a French stepfather, then serving 14 years in the U.S. Army, much of that time in Germany, with wartime service in the 1990-’91 Persian Gulf War, though he stresses his military duties were largely administrative.  

Minue, the Medal of Honor recipient, was with an armored infantry unit assigned to 1st Armored Division on April 28, 1943, when a group of soldiers came under fire from an enemy machine gun nest. For reasons that were never recorded, he ran forward with a bayonet and killed 10 enemy machinegunners and riflemen, then continued attacking other enemy riflemen dug into the hillsides until he was fatally injured. His aggressiveness “was unquestionably the factor that gave his company the offensive spirit that was necessary for advancing and driving the enemy from the entire sector,” according to Minue’s Medal of Honor citation. The chapel bells happen to be playing the “Battle Hymn of the Republic” while Castello, the superintendant, retells Minue’s story.  

“We know a few of the stories,” Castello adds. “It’s a shame that we don’t know them all.”  

For instance, there’s Foy Draper, who Castello says “began fighting Germans in 1936” as part of the U.S. Olympic team at the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Those were the Olympic games where Germany’s fascist leadership hoped to showcase their physical superiority, only to be bested by upstart Americans, led by African-American Jesse Owens.
The presence of an Olympic Gold Medalist among the gravesites is evidence that “America really gave her best in the pursuit of freedom,” Castello says at Draper’s gravesite.  

Draper, from California, won gold as one of four-members of the U.S. 400-meter relay team, and the cemetery has a photograph of Draper alongside teammates Owens, Ralph Metcalfe and Frank Wykoff. When the war started, Draper became a combat pilot. He and his crew were killed January 4, 1943, after taking off from an airfield in Thelepte, Tunisia, near the Algerian border.  

Not everyone honored at the cemetery is an Olympian or Medal of Honor recipient. The burials include 240 unknown Americans, including one headstone that marks the resting place of seven unknowns. Two adjacent headstones and a brass plaque mark the gravesite of four men whose names are known but whose remains could not be separately identified.  

Michael Coonce, the assistant superintendant at the North Africa American Cemetery, tells the story of Alice P. McKinney of Michigan, a private first class in the Women’s Army Corps. Her brother had died fighting in Europe, and she was being transferred from West Africa to Europe in the weeks after the war ended, in part to help with his burial arrangements. She is among 18 women soldiers aboard a transport plane that crashed off the African coast whose names are on the cemetery’s Wall of the Missing. Her brother is buried at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium.  

All of those honored at the cemetery died during World War II, in campaigns that began with the Operation Torch landings in North Africa in November 1942, with the fiercest fighting taking place in Tunisia in early 1943. At a time when Germany and Italy occupied much of the European continent and North Africa, the United States and United Kingdom were under intense pressure from their Soviet ally to begin offensive operations against the Axis powers. An attack into Europe was deemed too risky, so the Allies sent a military force into North Africa, where the British were having success against German and Italian tank forces in desert fighting, and where it was unclear how the neutral French Vichy forces occupying the region would respond. The French forces in North Africa soon sided with the Allies, but Germany and Italy were able to pour reinforcements into Tunisia, led by famed German Field Marshal Erwin Rommel. The Battle of Kasserine Pass in early 1943 cost thousands of American lives and resulted in major changes in U.S. tactics and leadership. The Allied forces were able to reverse their setbacks, reorganized and defeated the German-Italian force by May 1943. Tunisia then became a launching point for invading Sicily and southern Italy, followed a year later by the D-Day invasion of Normandy in northern France.  

“Without Operation Torch, there probably never would have been a D-Day,” said Castello, summing up the historic significance of the North Africa campaign.  

The nature of the fighting in Tunisia was described by wartime correspondent Ernie Pyle.  

“For four days and nights they have fought hard, eaten little, washed none, and slept hardly at all,” Pyle wrote in May 1943, traveling among American infantrymen. “Their nights have been violent with attack, fright, butchery, and their days sleepless and miserable with the crash of artillery. … They are young men, but the grime and whiskers and exhaustion make them look middle-aged. There is an agony in your heart and you almost feel ashamed to look at them. They are just guys from Broadway and Main Street, but you wouldn’t remember them. They are too far away now. They are too tired. Their world can never be known to you, but if you could see them just once, just for an instant, you would know that no matter how hard people work back home they are not keeping pace with these infantrymen in Tunisia.”  

Today, the people of Tunisia are respectful of the American cemetery (as well as British burial grounds), and a Tunisian military honor guard participates in annual U.S. Memorial Day observances. On Friday, as the groundskeepers were preparing for the Memorial Day weekend, small groups of visitors kept stopping by the “Cimetière américain?,” often young Tunisian couples who walked in silence among the graves.  

“Like other people’s, the Tunisian people lived through poignant tragedy of war and through dark hours under the occupation of Axis troops,” Tunisia’s founder and first president, Habib Bouguiba, said in a message posted on the wall of the North Africa American Cemetery’s visitor’s center. “Please accept, dear visitor … the expression of my deep sympathy for the relatives of those who have sacrificed so much for the sake of freedom.”  

The North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial in Carthage, Tunisia, is one of 24 permanent American military burial grounds on foreign soil administered by the American Battle Monuments Commission. Memorial Day weekend observances in Carthage are expected to include delegations from the government and military of Tunisia, and the U.S. government, including representatives from U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).  

Memorial Day, the last Monday in May, is an American holiday honoring men and women who have died in military service, with observances at military cemeteries and memorials in the United States and around the world.  

See also General William Ward’s Memorial Day message emphasizing the importance of the North Africa American Cemetery and Memorial:  

A 2-minute video of Vince Crawley’s visit to the North Africa American Cemetery is on Facebook at:!/video/video.php?v=1483406248569  

The Cemetery Website is at:

My Photos of Kasubi Tombs – Uganda Cultural Site Destroyed by Fire

Posted in Culture and history by Vince Crawley on March 20, 2010

A fire March 16, 2010, destroyed one of Uganda’s most important historic and cultural sites, the royal Kasubi palace tombs, a wood-and-thatch structure originally built in 1882.  See this article in New Vision newspaper.

In April 2008, a colleague and I were in Uganda on business (arranging press interviews related to U.S. AFRICOM) and were fortunate enough to visit the Kasubi royal tombs long before they were destroyed this week by fire. We had found ourselves with a spare day before our evening flight home, so we hired a guide with a car and asked to see the important sites of Kampala. The Kasubi Tombs were one of the places our guide, Ismael, took us, and I’m posting some of my photographs.

The photo above shows the main structure that burned. This formerly was a Royal House built by Kabaka (King) Muteesa I in 1882 at a place formerly known as Nabulagala on what is today the western outskirt of Kampala, the capital city of Uganda. In keeping with custom, Muteesa and his descendents were buried here. The structure was more than two stories tall. It is surrounded by a semi-circular compound of royal buildings. Supported by wooden beams, the walls and ceiling are made of thatched palm. It is a fully traditional structure from well before Uganda’s “colonial” era. (Uganda was never a colony but did, about 1900, become a British “protectorate,” while retaining much more independence than most colonies. The Ugandans are proud that they were never formally colonized.)

The picture above is one of the entrances to the compound.

The above photo, taken from the entrance to the compound, shows some of the scale of the palace tomb in the background. It is a busy tourist site.

Above, visitors leave their shoes at the door.

Above is our guide Ismael, left, and our guide at the tombs, Nicholas, right, who sat with us inside the public portion of the building and spent perhaps half an hour or more telling us the history of Buganda and its kings. Buganda, he explained, was an old and thriving kingdom, (more…)

U.S. – “No Desire to Americanize Conflict in Somalia”

Posted in Uncategorized by Vince Crawley on March 13, 2010

The United States has “No desire to Americanize the conflict in Somalia,” says Ambassador Johnnie Carson, U.S. envoy to Africa.

See Carson’s statement on U.S. policy in Somalia.

U.S. Africa Command is not in Somalia and is not training Somali government forces. U.S. AFRICOM support consists of training for African Union countries that provide peacekeepers for the AU Mission in Somalia (AMISOM).

Carson’s statement on Friday, March 12, follows a couple of recent articles:

The New York Times on March 6 reported that that the United States supports the Somali Transitional Federal Government.

U.S. Aiding Somalia in Its Plan to Retake Its Capital

Times reporter Jeffrey Gettleman even quoted Carson: “This is not an American offensive,” said Johnnie Carson, the assistant secretary of state for Africa. “The U.S. military is not on the ground in Somalia. Full stop.”

As is often the case, some people read the Times story and followed-up to reinforce an apparent strongly held belief that African nations are incapable of planning anything without covert U.S. leadership. For example, the Times article led anti-NATO blogger Rick Rozoff to post an op-ed, called ” AFRICOM’s First War: U.S. Directs Large-Scale Offensive In Somalia,” on his “Stop NATO” website: Rozoff has never queried us, and we’re always responsive to media queries, not making a distinction between online and traditional media.

On Friday in D.C., Carson held a follow-up news conference on the issue of Somalia. His statements included the following:

Carson: “We have provided limited military support to the Transitional Federal Government. We do so in the firm belief that the TFG seeks to end the violence in Somalia that is caused by al-Shabaab and other extremist organizations.
However, the United States does not plan, does not direct, and does not coordinate the military operations of the TFG, and we have not and will not be providing direct support for any potential military offensives. Further, we are not providing nor paying for military advisors for the TFG. There is no desire to Americanize the conflict in Somalia.
We are also aware of the reporting on the Somali – of the Somalia Monitoring Group’s concerns about the diversion of food and assistance in Somalia. The State Department has received the draft report and we are reviewing it carefully. I will not comment on that report because we have a representative from our Bureau of International Organizations who can answer those questions. But we are concerned about the troubling allegations that are contained in that document.
The Somali people have suffered tremendously throughout more than 20 years of conflict, and Somalia’s turmoil destabilizes not only that country, but the region and also some aspects of the international community. The U.S. recognizes that any long-term solution to the crisis in Somalia must be an inclusive political solution. We continue to call upon all those who seek peace in Somalia to reject terrorism and violence, and to participate in the hard work of stabilizing the country for the benefit of Somalia’s population.”

See also AFRICOM’s General Ward testifying before U.S. Congress: TRANSCRIPT: AFRICOM’s Ward Testifies Before Senate Armed Services Committee.

Ward said that Somalia’s Transitional Federal Government is:

“for now, our best potential for helping to turn around some of the instability and lack of governance that we’ve experienced there.  What’s going on in Mogadishu with respect to the desires of the transition government to reclaim parts of Mogadishu is a work in progress. I’m not aware of the specifics, so I’ll have to come back to you, sir, with the specifics on what that current operation looks like.

But to the degree the TFG, the transition federal government, can, in fact, re-exert control over Mogadishu with the help of AMISOM and others, I think it’s something that we would look to do and support, as well as the other provisions of the Djibouti process that look to instilling governance, instilling developmental things that would serve the benefit of the Somali people, to cause that situation to reverse itself.

We looked to participate with those who also support them, the other nations and the neighbors who contribute to the AMISOM mission, in particular Uganda, Burundi, supporting their work and trying to lend the hand that they lend to the TFG in increasing stability.

So those efforts are ongoing. It’s an effort that I think we would certainly support, and we would look to do it in ways that add to stability in that part of the continent.”

For more on the work of the U.S. military in Africa, see:

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.