About Me

My Photo
I saw active service in conventional, clandestine and covert units of the South African Defence Force. I was the founder of the Private Military Company (PMC) Executive Outcomes in 1989 and its chairman until I left in 1997. Until its closure in 1998, EO operated primarily in Africa helping African governments that had been abandoned by the West and were facing threats from insurgencies, terrorism and organised crime. EO also operated in South America and the Far East. I believe that only Africans (Black and White) can truly solve Africa’s problems. I was appointed Chairman of STTEP International in 2009 and also lecture at military colleges and universities in Africa on defence, intelligence and security issues. Prior to the STTEP International appointment, I served as an independent politico-military advisor to several African governments. I am a contributor to The Counter Terrorist magazine. All comments in line with the topics on this blog are welcome. As I consider this to be a serious look at military and security matters, foul language and political or religious debates will not be entertained on this blog.

Monday, November 24, 2008

AFRICOM: A WOLF IN SHEEP’S CLOTHING - OR WHAT WENT WRONG?

When the US government announced the authorisation of an independent unified combatant command for Africa - known as AFRICOM - on 6 February 2008, they had evidently forgotten one very basic factor in their appreciation and planning: Where would this newly-established instrument of US foreign policy be based?

Asked Africa in return: Forgive our scepticism, but what is its true aim?

Some African governments went even further and claimed that AFRICOM was aimed at a continued destabilisation policy of the US towards African states – something Africa has great experience of. Others said that the US had applied gross arrogance in assuming that AFRICOM would be given a base in Africa as there had been no prior consultation with them.

Theresa Whelan, the US Assistant Secretary of Defence for African Affairs, has stated that AFRICOM’s focus will be on diplomatic, economic and humanitarian aid. Few, if any African governments seem to believe this. If that is the case, they argue, why call it AFRICOM and why have such a large Department of Defence (DoD) component? Are all of these humanitarian-soldiers going to be doing diplomatic and economic work in Africa? If so, what are the US diplomats and aid agencies then doing in their countries?

Many African governments are in agreement that AFRICOM was most probably established as a knee-jerk reaction to the Chinese resource-hungry invasion of Africa and the likely threat this will hold for US interests – which are also primarily centred on resource exploitation. This seems to have sent Washington’s planners into over-drive. Additionally, the window of opportunity to establish a significant US presence in Africa was open to the US government all along but they simply chose to ignore it. When approached with options for establishing themselves in Africa, they ignored that too.

In a strange way, it reminded me of the warning we (a source and I) had given to the US in the Saudi Embassy in Pretoria concerning the imminent bombing of the USS Cole while it was docked in Yemen. The warning was there, the window to stop it was there but it was simply disregarded – until it was too late and lives had been lost. AFRICOM’s planners appear to have fallen into the same trap. The end result is that it is a little too late.

However, as America proclaimed the establishment of AFRICOM, Africa in turn greeted it with incredulity. Can anyone really blame them?

A senior African politician once said to me: “When we asked the US to help us, they helped the rebels instead! How can we trust such a nation?”

AFRICOM nonetheless forged ahead and appointed General William “Kip” Ward as its commander. Despite being an African-American and no doubt a very competent officer - many African governments found this appointment amusing. Whereas the US may view General Ward as an “African”, Africans don’t. This became apparent when General Ward toured Africa looking for a home-base for his humanitarian-diplomatic-economic mission. He didn’t understand the complexities of Africa, the politics, the people, their traditions, their distrust and their beliefs. The US, believing that Africa would find instant rapport with General Ward due to his historic “Africanness”, was wrong again.

General Ward’s tour through Africa in search of a base was not very successful, despite the Voice of America (VoA) elaborating on the “friendship”, “strong ties” and “goodwill” General Ward encountered in almost every country he visited. These strong ties and goodwill General Ward encountered throughout Africa have, as yet, yielded no base for AFRICOM – apart from the existing US base in Djibouti (Camp Lemonier) with its 2 300 troops that was immediately inherited from the US Central Command.

This did, however, not stop the establishment on 1 October 2008 of the air support component of AFRICOM, the Seventeenth Air Force which is currently based at Sembach Air Base in Germany.

Looking at the various successive US administrations’ record in Africa, it is one long script of betrayal, destabilisation, political blackmail and even worse. Is it then therefore such a surprise that Africa is concerned about its formation? Of course, the bigger African powers also see AFRICOM as an attempt to overshadow their hegemony and undermine them and their interests in Africa. African governments are willing to accept the US Dollar in times of financial crisis but, at the moment, that is as far as it goes. They remain extremely reluctant and wary to allow the wolf to guard their sheep.

As for the few whites that remain in Africa, they too have seen and experienced US betrayals first-hand. AFRICOM is therefore not seen as their saviour either in any shape or form. Instead, they know that their advice and knowledge of the continent will be turned down and thus they view it as another disaster in the making.

US foreign policy has in many ways been shaped by the Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) (mis)adventures in Africa, both covert and overt. Whereas there have no doubt been some successes, the failures have been spectacular. Casting a look at the continent, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Angola, Mozambique, Democratic Republic of Congo, Somalia, Sudan, Kenya, South Africa, Rwanda and many others immediately spring to mind. Indeed, the US Special Forces are still active in Africa – training the Rwandan Armed Forces (amongst others) – nothing wrong with that - but who in turn are accused of providing support to the rebels in the DRC. “Are they part of AFRICOM?” asked an African minister.

The inability of the US to realise that Africa is a very volatile and complex continent, and not a large country with a common language has furthermore compounded their mistakes. The complexities are further evident by the mad dash by all and sundry to seize its natural resources for their own development with the West blaming the East and visa versa. Africa is indeed blessed with an abundance of natural resources - but this blessing is also its curse.

Unlike the Chinese who have made extensive use of human agents in gathering information and intelligence on Africa – as well as influence, the US has relied primarily on Satellite- and Technical Intelligence (SATINT and TECHINT). But Satint and Techint have many limitations – one of them being unable to see opportunities and correctly assess them. In the past, the CIA operatives in Africa were mainly concerned with recruiting Russian diplomats and didn’t pay much attention to Africa itself, apart from some poorly-hatched covert operations. By neglecting the value of human intelligence (or in the case of Iraq placing all their trust in a single disinformation agent – another post for another day) and influence, the US has been unable to gauge the mood of Africa and its likely reaction to AFRICOM.

This misjudgement becomes even more serious when it is considered that the US took their eye off the African ball and focused it entirely on the Middle East pavilion. During this period, the Chinese seized the moment – with India and Russia following in their wake - and several Asian- and Russo-African pacts were entered into, effectively shutting out the USA.

So for now AFRICOM remains firmly entrenched in Stuttgart, Germany – a LONG way away from heartbeat of Africa.

24 comments:

E Richard said...

Hey Eeben,
Yes it would be a nice day if we as a government were venturing out with only good intentions in store for our host nations. To take a step back and look at directions we as a nation have taken leaves me with little to do but think how little I must actually know about the inner workings of international diplomacy, security and economic interests of the country that represents me abroad. We elect people and can track their actions at home relatively well, but internationally the unelected element of our nation seems to be on it's own coarse or curse.
Can''t say that I was any more or less concerned with with things staying the same or going for a proclamation of change. Hopefully change will actually happen to something besides a financial statement. 50 plus million a month to get on the train towards election. At home as well as overseas, the debt collector will be calling.

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

It would be a great day ER. Unfortunately though, the US government does not often consider its people and seems to be off on a mission of its own. I find that very sad. But, even sadder though is that fact that there is such mistrust towards the US governments from Africa. A lot of it is due to the past actions that have taken place but some of it is also due to rumour-mongering and disinformation.

Be that as it may, a lot of anger in Africa is also of Africa’s own making but, as you know, it is always good to have someone to blame.

I am certainly not knowledgeable on US politics so I cannot expect you to be knowledgeable on Africa’s. Even we who live here are often caught up in great confusion.

Rgds,

Eeben

Stupid said...

“He didn’t understand the complexities of Africa, the politics, the people, their traditions, their distrust and their beliefs. The US, believing that Africa would find instant rapport with General Ward due to his historic “Africanness”, was wrong again.”

I have argued on South African blogs that Africa is not going to accept interference from Obama either, for the same reasons that you mention here. A lot of white South Africans have found new hope in the appointment of Obama because they believe he will improve life for minorities in Africa. Hopefully Obama will have enough sense to just stay out of African politics otherwise he will just make things worse.

Loggi said...

Hi Eeben,
The mistrust for the US is deep rooted and not even an almost black president will change that for the foreseeable future.
The Chinese on the other hand have even less good intentions, but they have as yet not shown their true colors so they have an advantage for now.
At the rate The Chinese are signing free trade and preferred nation agreements all over Africa and Latin America, the US will soon rely on them for raw materials and minerals as well. The US military bases are becoming ever more unpopular by the locals and they will come under more pressure to close the majority of their international bases throughout Europe and even more so in Latin America and Asia.
The Puerto Rican island Vieques is calling the military base an illegal occupation and Ecuador’s has shut down the US military base in Manta.
Not having one African, Asian, Latin American, western European friend will ultimately have consequences.

graycladunits said...

Dear Eeben:

Do you expect the US's lack of access to African natural resources to lead to its fall from its present superpower status? Or do you think that the US will, in time, gain greater access to African natural resources via some other means and remain a superpower for awhile longer yet?

Thanks, graycladunits

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Had Pres-elect Obama been in SA during the xenophobia period earlier this year, he would have been assaulted and stoned for being a Kenyan. Now that he is on his way to the White House, he is seen as a “son” of Africa and South Africa in particular – why I cannot explain. I do believe that South Africa features nowhere near the top of his list of priorities – the fate of minorities even less.

I also believe that the damage done to Africa by US policies can still be rectified but it will take a long time for a genuine trust to be established. However, the longer the US waits, the longer it will take - and the stronger the Chinese, Indian and Russian hold over Africa and its resources.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I agree, Loggi – the mistrust runs very deep and despite all of the utterances by the US over its concern for Africa, no-one really believes it. The Bush administration has apparently done more for Africa than any previous administration but that too is almost forgotten.

I think everyone knows that the Chinese, Indians and Russians are not in Africa because they love the continent and its people. It is all about resources - and ultimately power and influence - and you are quite right in saying that they haven’t shown their true colours yet. But as their stranglehold increases, their intentions will become clearer and then Africa’s resources may really become its curse.

But as time marches on, the US is seemingly alienating itself and losing its friends. That may not be good for anyone in the long run.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

GCU, I think the US will remain a superpower for some time to come. But that status is being eroded by many players and obviously, that will threaten the US’s position in the international political arena.

But for industry to thrive and grow, it needs resources. Although Africa is rich in resources, the inability of the US to gain access to them may cost it dearly.

Rgds,

Eeben

Grumbleguts said...

Here's a good quote from someone that knew about these things!!!!


"Nazi leader Hermann Goering, interviewed by Gustave Gilbert during the Easter recess of the Nuremberg trials, 1946 April 18, quoted in Gilbert's book 'Nuremberg Diary.'

Goering: Why, of course, the people don't want war. Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece.

Naturally, the common people don't want war; neither in Russia, nor in
England, nor in America, nor for that matter in Germany. That is
understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who
determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the
people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament, or a communist dictatorship.

Gilbert: There is one difference. In a democracy the people have some
say in the matter through their elected representatives, and in the
United States only Congress can declare wars.

Goering: Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the
bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of
patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country."

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Thanks Grumble. It is an absolute truth that people can be dragged into war. Goering hit the nail on the head with the statement “That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger. It works the same in any country." We see that manifested on an almost daily basis across the world.

Rgds,
Eeben

He of difficult days said...

As a side note thats unrelated:

Some Russian political bigwigs were mouthing off that Russia could take Alaska from the USA.

Would that be possible? And would a "well regulated militia" be able to stop the Russian advance? I was contemplating moving to that part of the world (Alaska)...

Russia mouths off

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I too saw the report that a Russian political scientist has made these claims but I recall Alaska being sold as a straight off sell for just over US$ 7 million without any time constraints, thus making it a true and legitimate purchase by the USA.

The rumour that it was not a real sale but a lease came about during the Russian Revolution of 1917 when all previous laws and treatise of the Czarist government were declared null and void by the incoming communist government. I think the Russians would like to perpetuate this rumour as it will cause a lot of concern and uncertainty to the people in Alaska.

A well regulated militia will certainly be able to do some damage to a Russian advance but not stop it. Furthermore, we are seeing Russia flex its military muscle again and working at rebuilding its forces as they were under communist rule. The Russians are also steadily building their influence in Latin America and if ever they did advance into Alaska, the US would be facing a threat on 2 fronts – Alaska and Latin America.

But, Russia has enough of its own internal problems to solve and it is highly unlikely that it will, at present, even contemplate trying to retake Alaska. Apart from such a move being illegal, I don’t think that Russia wants to engage itself in a serious conflict with the US – small ones and propaganda are okay but not a big decisive conflict.

Rgds,

Eeben

Loggi said...

Hi Eeben. Could the South Ossetia indecent have been a test to check western response?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am no expert on this region Loggi but I believe the western advisors (US and Israeli) to Georgia advised President Saakashvili that if he ordered the attack on South Ossetia, the Russians would not do anything to prevent it. Georgia, however, didn’t have a hope in hell of winning anyway as the two break-away republics have all along been viewed as “Russian” by the Russians. I suspect that Saakashvili was also told that the west would back him in such an action. Regardless of the propaganda and counter-propaganda, Georgia did attack first – something even Georgian diplomats have admitted to.

In brief, it was a massive intelligence blunder as they – both the advisors and the west – did not expect the sudden and overwhelming Russian reaction – a reaction the Russians would only have attempted if they had prior intelligence that the west would do nothing. In the process Georgia has shown it incapable of defending itself. It has also almost brought Saakashvili to his knees. The war has also led to critics of Saakashvili claiming that he alone was responsible for their current precarious position and has cast questions on his style of government.

The end result of this misadventure is that Russia has recognised the two break-away republics and they in turn have aligned themselves with Russia. It has also boosted Russian military morale significantly. It has also established that the Russian military will not hesitate to protect Russia’s interests.

I believe that the gamble failed and showed the west that the Russian military is rebuilding itself and will not hesitate to take action if it or its allies are under threat.

Rgds,

Eeben

Censorbugbear said...

Eeben - thanks for this insight. I have been puzzled about AFRICOM myself and have been watching their progress from afar myself. If you see the pictures of the operations they are carrying out, on their own website, they appear to be acting more like some kind of Peace Corps in uniform rather than a military force. They arrive bearing gifts. Africans don't mind getting all that largesse, as long as it goes to the leaders. The minute it gets spread around amongst the lesser mortals of the local tribes, i.e. those who really need this help, then African leaders will balk and bellow until they get their own kickbacks. It's the law of Africa isn't it?

The second mistake they made was to appoint a black American general - he is in fact not a ring-knocker but a man who rose through the ranks, and I always have respect for those kind of generals... but black Americans often discover much to their shock, how much they are actually disliked by African tribal leaders only once they arrive on the continent of their forefathers. Back home, they are fed these African-American mythology in their blacks-only universities and so have rather romantic but very unrealistic ideas about Africa. I've met a lot of black Americans in South Africa who went into absolute culture shock about the disdain they received from their fellow-blacks there. Things might have lightened up over the past decade but I don't think so. Black Africans view black Americans as Americans first, and as blacks second. They are still wholly tribal-based, whereas the black Americans only have one tribe: their US passports. They now have rebuilt their bonds with Liberia after they had to get rid off that feral Taylor, and the present Liberian president is a USA-educated pro-American woman. AFRICOMwill probably operate from Monrovia, in fact I believe they already are as their largest contingent is stationed there. What I find sad though is that while AFRICOM is operating inside Somalia and Kenya, their naval forces seem totally unable to stop the piracy which is destroying the shipping routes between the northern and southern hemispheres. This is the mightiest military on earth and they can't control a few tribal pirates in high speed boats. How sad is that?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

You are quie correct Censorbugbear,there is a very large – often unrecognised – culture shock to the uninitiated who put their feet onto African soil. Sadly though the US made a huge miscalculation with the manner in which AFRICOM was announced and their subsequent marketing of it. Although they did consider Liberia, there has been a lot of pressure from Nigeria to prevent it. Only time will tell what will happen to AFRICOM and its mission. At present, it is somewhat of a dilemma to the USA

Rgds,

Eeben

Censorbugbear said...

I can't email you directly to ask for permission, so I have posted your article on my blog http://censorbugbear-reports.blogspot.com Please email me at a.j.stuijt@knid.nl if you'd like to add or change anything...

Censorbugbear said...

A Few Words from Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi...

"The society governed by one party is exactly that which is governed by one tribe or sect...Only blood-relationship distinguishes a tribe from a party...There is no difference between party struggles and tribal or sectarian struggles for power...both of them tread the same path and lead to the same end."

Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi, president of Libya, from The Green Book, 1975-1980.

"The most tyrannical dictatorships the world has known have existed under the show of parliaments."
Muammar Muhammad al-Gaddafi, president of Libya, from The Green Book, 1975-1980.

(As quoted in George Tremlett's Gadaffi: The Desert Mystic, New York, 1993.)

Grumbleguts said...

Hi Eeben,
I see that there are some vehicles up for sale in SA, all needing serious attention. 67 Casspirs, 40 Nonqai, 38 Scouts, 27 Nyala, eight Mambas, five Buffels, and a handful of others including Blesbok, Duikers, Boerbok and an Albatross. Sounds like quite a lot to me. Would this mean that the SA defence force will be attacking by foot or bicycle?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

No problem Censorbugbear. I am honoured to have something of mine on your blog.

Rgds,

Eeben

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

I am not sure Grumbleguts. What I am sure of though is that the SANDF’s equipment maintenance programme is not really up to scratch. A lot of still-serviceable equipment is being sold off and although some of it is no longer state-of-the-art, it is still useful in the correct hands and proper application.

Rgds,

Eeben

Censorbugbear said...

Eeben do you think the SA military is still capable of protecting anything in South Africa - based on the fact that at least 70% are AIDS-TB infected and the vast majority are incapable of fixing anything mechanical?

Eeben Barlow's Milsec Blog said...

Censorbugbear, I will not enter into the politics of the situation, as politics is not my domain. But, obviously, one needs to be cognisant of the politics in assessing the SANDF’s capabilities – or lack thereof.

The SANDF is in a sorry state due to the fact that every soldier (white, black and coloured) who had combat experience was either fired or forced out of uniform. This was merely a continuation of a trend set in motion by FW de Klerk and his cohorts. As you well know, this was because every soldier that served in the SADF was seen as an “apartheid soldier”. (When Gordon Brown looses the election in England and the British troops are pulled back from foreign postings in the Middle East, I doubt that the entire Armed Forces will be purged because they are “anti-Muslim soldiers”).

The British Military Advisory and Training Team (BMATT) was very responsible for giving advice to the newly-established SANDF and sat in on the “interviews” where returned MK men were “awarded” ranks, based on their claims of what they did and how well trained they were. These interviewees did not even have to prove their claims. The end result is that the SANDF found itself with officers and NCOs who couldn’t read or write. Thus was laid the very shaky foundation of the future SANDF. As you can imagine, this set the tone for a "political army".

The SANDF proved its inefficiency during its ill-fated invasion of Lesotho in the 90s (Operation Boleas). Were it not for the Botswana Defence Force, even more SANDF troops would have been killed. Regardless of their lack of battlefield skills, the SANDF caused millions of dollars damage and was actively involved in looting in Lesotho. That became a trend that set the stage for the SANDF’s future involvement in peacekeeping – a lack of discipline, looting, rape, murder, child prostitution and more.

Despite the high rate of AIDS, poor training, a lack of command and control and so forth, the SANDF also has its own “trade union”. All of these factors combined have shown that the SANDF is an incapable of projecting any serious level of force.

So, a long-winded response to your question but I doubt that the SANDF will be capable of protecting anything if it cannot even honour its mission.

Rgds,

Eeben

joshwillishomes said...

Thanks for this informative post. I like it very much..



http://www.armysurplus365.co.uk/