The Forgotten Continenent: The Story of the US's Return to Africa

By Marina Tolchinsky
Cornell International Affairs Review
2013, Vol. 6 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

AFRICOM Goes Public

Planning for AFRICOM moved along at a fairly rapid pace. The interagency planning team presented a final briefing to Rumsfeld at the end of November.71 In early December, Rumsfeld announced he would be resigning. AFRICOM could have easily gotten lost in Rumsfeld's transition out of office, but he ensured the planning team's recommendation was forwarded to President Bush on December 15th, who approved creation of the command that same day.72 AFRICOM was officially announced on February 6, 2007 by new Secretary of Defense Robert Gates at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing:

"The President 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integrated approach than the current arrangement of dividing Africa between Central Command and European Command, an outdated arrangement left over from the Cold War." – Robert Gates.73

Later that day, the White House issued a statement by President Bush:

"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."74

As discussion of AFRICOM moved from the Pentagon into the public sphere, DoD officials had to defend the new command, as the press asked, "Why now?" Reporters wrote about the increasing influence of China in Africa and the growing economic importance of oil and other resources when reporting about AFRICOM. Theresa Whelan attempted to quell these misconceptions in a testimony for the House AFRICOM hearing.

Whelan said the two biggest misconceptions about AFRICOM were that it would militarize U.S. foreign policy in Africa and that its primary purpose was to secure U.S. access to oil. Whelan countered these saying, "Africa Command is merely the logical next step in a course set almost a decade ago."75 In regards to oil, she noted, "while Africa's growing importance as a global oil producer is certainly a factor in the continent's strategic significance, it was not, as has been explained previously in this paper, the rationale for the creation of AFRICOM."76

However, Whelan's reassurance did little to lessen controversy over AFRICOM in the media, especially as writings by neoconservative groups such as the Heritage Foundation were publicized. In an NBC Frontline episode on Bush's decision to create the new command, Christopher Moraff brought up a Heritage Foundation policy backgrounder written in 2006 about China's increasing influence in Africa:

"The United States must be alert to the potential long-term disruption of American access to important raw materials and energy sources as these resources are ‘locked up' by Chinese firms."77

As discussion of AFRICOM moved from the Pentagon into the public sphere, DoD officials had to defend the new command, as the press asked, "Why now?"

According to Moraff, "Neoconservative groups call China's growing relationship with Africa ‘alarming' and want a response."78 Moraff saw Bush's decision to create AFRICOM as a response to pressure from neoconservatives to address China. Moraff further pointed out that the announcement of AFRICOM's creation came a week after Chinese President Hu Jintao had landed in Cameroon to start series of meetings with African leaders where he signed cooperation agreements and pledged to double China's assistance to Africa.79

The Search for a Headquarters

The DoD's search for a command headquarters in Africa caused additional negative publicity. The interagency implementation planning team had agreed with the original EUCOM committee's recommendation that the command's headquarters and regional offices be located in Africa. Further, in the White House announcement, Bush said the U.S. would work with African partners to find a location for the headquarters. This proved to be harder than the DoD had anticipated, as the response from African leaders was less than welcoming.

Within just a few months of the new command's announcement, it became apparent that only one African leader, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, had welcomed an AFRICOM headquarters. Even within Liberia there was harsh resistance from the public. According to Professor Theo Neethling at Stellenbosch University in South Africa, the response to AFRICOM was "a mixture of anticipation, trepidation, suspicion, skepticism, and condemnation."80 South Africa, thought to be one of the U.S.'s closes allies in Africa, was critical of the new command, with the Defence Minister Mosiuoa Lekota saying, "The United States Africa Command (AFRICOM) should stay out of the African continent." Lekota explained to BBC that South Africa's main issue with AFRICOM wasn't the command itself, but instead its location on the continent.81

Despite AFRICOM's rocky reception by the media, the command has been praised for its management of the early stage in the Libya intervention, called Operation Odyssey Dawn

In April, senior DoD officials traveled to Africa to discuss the command with African leaders.82 DoD spokesman Ryan Henry said the discussions had been "fruitful" and denied that they had tried and failed to find a proper location for the headquarters.83 In October of 2007, shortly after AFRICOM was activated, General Ward, who had been appointed the commander of AFRICOM, made the decision to indefinitely postpone the question of the headquarter location because it "distracted from the primary mission of the command, which was to build relationships and sustained programs."84 Currently, the command headquarters is still located alongside EUCOM in Stuttgart, Germany, with no regional sub-offices in Africa.

Epilogue: What has AFRICOM Done?

"United States Africa Command, in concert with other U.S. government agencies and international partners, conducts sustained security engagements through military-to-military programs, militarysponsored activities, and other military operations as directed to promote a stable and secure African environment in support of U.S. foreign policy." – AFRICOM mission statement May 2008.85

Five years later, with headquarters still in Germany, what has the young command actually accomplished? AFRICOM's starting budget in 2007 and 2008 was a combined $125 million, although President Bush had asked for more. In fiscal year 2009, AFRICOM's budget increased to $310 million, and in 2010 it kept fairly steady at $302 million.86 The budget covers the command's operations, maintenance of its headquarters, the salaries of civil service employees assigned to the headquarters, and the costs of conducting AFRICOM's various military-to-military programs.87

AFRICOM's programs are carried out by its small staff of about 2,000, the majority of whom work in the Stuttgart headquarters, and around 50 civilian staff from other U.S. government bureaus. The command has taken over the OEF-TS and OEF-HOA operations, which include responsibility for the CJTF-HOA. Funding for the CJTF-HOA and its base in Djibouti, however, comes mostly from the Navy,88 and includes troops from allied forces as well. The Task Force is headquartered at Camp Lemmonier, a U.S. base that is leased from the Djibouti government.

There are about 3,500 U.S. and allied personnel and DoD contracters. The Task Force has continued its main operations of training the Navies of HOA countries for maritime security. AFRICOM also created the Africa Partnership Station (APS), a program to further strengthen maritime security through training and joint exercises, infrastructure building, and the facilitation of cross-border collaboration. In 2010,APS worked with 17 African countries. In addition to the U.S. Navy, the APS program has included military professionals from European countries and Brazil. AFRICOM also coordinates a third maritime security-training program with the U.S. coast guard.89

OEF-TS has also continued to train and equip the national militaries of its ten partner countries (Algeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Mauritania, Chad, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia). The main goal of this training is to build the military's capacity to deter the illegal drug and arms trade in the Sahel/Sahara region and to prevent terrorists from establishing safehavens. In 2011, OEF-TS was the U.S. government's 3rd highest counterterrorism priority. The operation works with the State Department's International Military and Education Training (IMET) program, which in 2009 trained about 900 military students from Africa both in the U.S. and in Africa. This program recently came into some controversy when a soldier who had been trained by IMET led a military coup in Mali in March of 2012.90

AFRICOM has further received negative publicity when General Kip Ward was demoted due to allegations of "lavish spending." Ward had already retired and General Carter F. Ham had taken over, however, the DoD led an investigation into Ward's spending on trips to Africa and has ordered him to repay $82,000 to the government.91


Regional structure before AFRICOM


Unified command plan after AFRICOM's creation

Despite AFRICOM's rocky reception by the media, the command has been praised for its management of the early stage in the Libya intervention, called Operation Odyssey Dawn. This was AFRICOM's first military operation. The command coordinated the combat operations of eleven U.S. warships and dozens of aircrafts, fired over 100 tomahawk cruise missiles, and attacked 45 ground targets.92

The operation ended after twelve days when NATO took over with a longer-term operation. AFRICOM's successes, however, received political backlash from several African countries due to the command's direct role in the intervention.

After the hesitant reception to the new command in Africa, AFRICOM had tried to lay low and build the trust of its African partners. According to Jonathan Stevenson of Foreign Affairs magazine, "AFRICOM will have a hard time reestablishing its bona fides with African governments, which were fairly tenuous even before the Libyan intervention."93

In addition to the several programs and interventions mentioned, AFRICOM leads a number of smaller programs, such as Operation Onward Liberty, which provides U.S. military mentors to advise the Liberian Armed Forces,94 and the U.S. LRA task force, which consists of 100 advisors to support regional effort against the LRA.95 The command also assists with delivery of humanitarian assistance and emergency aid, and has recently incorporated disaster response into its training of African forces.96

Currently, terrorist activity in the Sahara/Sahel region and the Horn of Africa remains a key security challenge for African countries and the U.S. The radical terrorist groups Al-Shabaab in Somalia, AQIM in North Mali, and Boko Haram in Nigeria pose the biggest threats to U.S. security interests in Africa.97

Since AFRICOM's establishment, these groups have gained even more power, particularly in Mali, where AQIM-affiliated rebel groups have overtaken the northern half of the country. The command proved its military capacity during the Libya intervention; however, the success of its capacity-building programs is open to debate.


  1. Claudia E. Anyaso, edit., 50 Years of U.S. Africa Policy (Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 2011): 18.
  2. United States Africa Command: The First 3 Years (Stuttgart, Germany: US Africa Command Kelley Barracks, 2011): 6.
  3. Paul P. Cale, “African Command: The Newest Combatant Command” (U.S. Army War College, 2005): 1, accessed November 4 2012.
  4. United States Africa Command: The First 3 Years: 10.
  5. Ibid, 13.
  6. Claudia E. Anyaso, 50 Years of U.S. Africa Policy: 239.
  7. Patrick Sharma, “Review Essay,” review of The Global Cold War: Third World Interventions and the Making of Our Times by: Odd Arne Westad, Yale Journal of International Affairs, Spring 2007.
  8. Donald Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown: A Memoir (New York: The Penguin Group, 2011): 215.
  9. Claudia E. Anyaso, 50 Years of U.S. Africa Policy: 160.
  10. Nicolas van de Wall, “US Policy Towards Africa: The Bush Legacy and the Obama Administration", African Affairs, 109 (2010), accessed October 20 2012, doi:10.1093/afraf/adp065.
  11. Robert G. Bershinski, “AFRICOM’s Dilemma: The ‘Global War on Terrorism,’ ‘Capacity Building,’ Humanitarianism, and the Future of U.S. Security Policy in Africa” (U.S. Army War College, 2007): 3.
  12. Claudia E. Anyaso, 50 Years of U.S. Africa Policy: 211.
  13. Dan Henk, “US National Interests in Sub-Saharan Africa,” Parameters, (1997-98): 92-107, accessed November 4 2012.
  14. Ibid.
  15. United States Africa Command: The First Three Years, 15.
  16. Ibid, 16.
  17. William Fox, Jr. “Military Medical Operations in Sub-Saharan Africa: The DoD ‘Point of the Spear’ for a New Century” (U.S. Army War College, 1997): 27, accessed Oct 25, 2012.
  18. Richard G. Catoire, “A CINC for Sub-Saharan Africa? Rethinking the Unified Command Plan,” Parameters (2000-2001): 102-117, accessed November 4 2012.
  19. Ibid. The interventions Catoire lists are: noncombatant evacuations from Liberia, Somalia, Zaire, Sierra Leone, Rwanda, and the Central African Republic; humanitarian relief operations in Somalia, Rwanda, and Central African Republic; election support in Angola; UN support in Somalia; and ECOWAS support in Liberia.
  20. Robert G. Bershinski, 3.
  21. Jennifer G. Cooke and J. Stephen Morrison, U.S. Africa Policy beyond the Bush Years,” Center for Strategic and International Studies (Center for Strategic and International Studies Press: 2009): 3.
  22. Ibid.
  23. George W. Bush, Decision Points (New York: Crown Publishers, 2010), 334.
  24. Ibid, 335.
  25. Jamie Holguin. “‘Compassionate Conservativism’ Returns,” CBS News, February 11 2009, accessed November 17 2012,
  26. Theresa Whelan, “Why AFRICOM?” U.S. Department of Defense, August 2007,
  27. Paul P. Cale, “African Command: The Newest Combatant Command”: 5.
  28. National Security Council, “Section V: Strategy for Winning the War on Terror,” in National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, 2006., accessed December 8 2012.
  29. Ibid, 11.
  30. Robert G. Bershinski, 23.
  31. Jonathan Masters, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM),” Council on Foreign Relations, Oct 15 2012,
  32. “Operation Enduring Freedom Trans Sahara,” U.S. Africa Command,, accessed October 20 2012.
  33. Robert G. Bershinski, 24.
  34. Robert G. Bershinski, 25.
  35. Donald Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown: A Memoir: 356-357.
  36. Charles M. Brown, “U.S. National Security Interests in Africa and the Future Global War on Terrorism (GWOT): A Proposal to Create an African Regional Combatant Command” (Naval Postgraduate School, 2005): 9.
  37. Theresa Whelan, “Why AFRICOM?”
  38. “The Geopolitics of China-African Oil,” China Briefing, April 13 2011,
  39. Joyce Hackel, “China Struggles to End Hostilities along Oil-Rich Sudan Border,” PRI’s The World, April 25 2012,
  40. David H. Shinn, “Africa, China, the United States, and Oil,” Center for Strategic and International Studies, May 8 2007,
  41. Ibid.
  42. “The Geopolitics of China-African Oil.”
  43. David H. Shinn, “, “Africa, China, the United States, and Oil.”
  44. David Gootnick, Statement to the Congressional Human Rights Caucus, The Democratic Republic of Congo, Hearing, March 6 2008, 3
  45. “Global Witness Welcomes DR Congo’s Decision to Publish Resource Contracts,” Global Witness, June 3 2011,
  46. Solange Guo Chatelard, “Viewpoint: Africa Must do More to Profit from China,” BBC News, May 21 2012,
  47. “Africa,” Office of the United States Trade Representative, accessed Oct 20 2012,
  48. Corey Flintoff, “Where Does America Get Oil? You May Be Surprised,” NPR, April 12 2012,
  49. Ricardo Soares de Oliviera, Oil and Politics in the Gulf of Guinea (Colombia University Press: 2007): 4.
  50. David H. Shinn, “Africa, China, the United States, and Oil.”
  51. Examples include: Regina M. Curtis, “Countering Destabilization in Africa: A Threat to U.S. National Security” (U.S. Army War College: 2004) and Charles M. Brown, “U.S. National Security Interests in Africa and the Future Global War on Terrorism (GWOT): A Proposal to Create an African Regional Combatant Command” (Naval Postgraduate School: 2005).
  52. United States Africa Command: The First Three Years, 18.
  53. Donald Rumsfeld, Known and Unknown: A Memoir: 485.
  54. Sidney E. Dean, “Rumsfeld Favors Independent Africa Command,” US Fed News Service, October 1 2006, accessed November 15 2012.
  55. Ibid.
  56. United States Africa Command: The First Three Years, 18
  57. Ibid.
  58. Ibid.
  59. Ibid.
  60. “Vide Admiral Robert T. Moeller,” United States Navy Biography, September 11 2008,
  61. “The Roger Jones Award: Theresa M. Whelan,” American University School of Public Affairs, accessed November 20 2012,
  62. Gordon Lubold, “DoD’s Proposed Map Includes Africa Command,” Armed Service and Government News, September 11 2006.
  63. Alex Belida, “AFRICOM’s Origins: The Final Stages of the Proposal,” September 30 2008, AFRICOMWatch Blog,
  64. Claudia E. Anyaso, “An Overview of AFRICOM: A Unified Combatant Command,” (presented at WIIS-US Army War College AFRICOM Conference, Washington DC, April 22 2008)
  65. Ibid.
  66. Susan G. Reichle, Statement to the House, Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, National Security, Interagency Collaboration, and Lessons from SOUTHCOM and AFRICOM, Hearing, July 28 2010,
  68. Kate Almquist, “Africa Doesn’t Need the Pentagon’s Charity – Why I’m Grumpy about DoD’s Development Programs in Africa,” Center for Global Development, August 27 2012,
  69. Ibid.
  70. Alex Belida, “AFRICOM’s Origins: The Final Stages of the Proposal,”
  71. United States Africa Command: The First Three Years, 19.
  72. Ibid, 20.
  73. Ibid.
  74. Theresa Whelan, “Why AFRICOM?”
  75. Ibid.
  76. Christopher Moraff, “AFRICOM: Round One in a New Cold War” (Institute for Public Affairs: 2007), Frontline, October 2007, accessed November 5 2012.
  77. Ibid.
  78. Ibid.
  79. Theo Neethling, “Establishing AFRICOM: Pressing Questions, Political Concerns, and Future Prospects,” Scientia Military: South African Journal of Military Studies 36.1 (2008): 32.
  80. “South African Defence Minister Says Regional Bloc Against AFRICOM,” BBC Monitoring Africa, August 29 2007, accessed October 20 2012.
  81. “Officials Visit African Nations, Discuss New Command with Leaders,” US Fed News Service, April 24 2007, accessed October 20 2012.
  82. Ibid.
  83. United States Africa Command: The First Three Years, 21.
  84. United States Africa Command: The First 3 Years (Stuttgart, Germany: US Africa Command Kelley Barracks, 2011): 7.
  85. “About United States Africa Command,” last modified August 2011,
  86. Ibid.
  87. John H. Pendleton, Report to the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, DoD Needs to Determine the Future of its Horn of Africa Task Force, April 2010, 1.
  88. “About United States Africa Command.”
  89. Joshua E. Keating, “Foreign Policy: Trained in the U.S.A.,” NPR, March 29 2012,
  90. Lolita C. Baldor, “AFRICOM General Demoted for Lavish Travel and Spending,” Federal News Radio, November 13 2012,
  91. Jonathan Stevenson, “AFRICOM’s Libyan Expedition,” Foreign Affairs, May 9 2011, accessed December 10 2012.
  92. Ibid.
  93. “About United States Africa Command.”
  94. General Carter F. Ham, Statement to the House Armed Services Committee, “2012 Posture Statement,” March 1 2012,
  95. Donna Miles, “Africom Promotes Humanitarian Response Readiness in Africa,” American Forces Press Service, July 5 2012,
  96. General Carter F. Ham, Statement to the House Armed Services Committee.

Image Attributions

By Discott (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( 3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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