Privatizing Violence in Africa

One of the goals of the United States’ new military command for Africa, AFRICOM, as defined by the Department of Defense (DOD) is to promote security and stability on the continent by increasing the security capability of African countries. This includes professionalizing African militaries and providing peacekeeping forces and support.

DOD officials have said that the AFRICOM force of about 600 will be mainly administrative personnel concentrated at its headquarters, currently in Stuttgart, Germany. They will be both civilian and military personnel re-assigned from the European Command (EUCOM), Pacific Command (PACOM), and Central Command (CENTCOM), the military commands that African operations were previously drawn from.

However, achieving AFRICOM’s goal of increasing the security capability of African countries will require more than just administrative personnel. Furthermore, with U.S. troops over-extended in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, one of the likely options for AFRICOM is to hire military contractors. Considering the recent Blackwater, Inc. controversy in Iraq, this option is increasingly unsettling.

Hiring military contractors in Africa is not a new strategy. The Bush administration employed DynCorp International to restructure Liberia’s military forces in 2003. After two years of operations and a $35 million pledge from the US government, the military contractor has failed to achieve what it was hired to do, train 2,000 Liberians in US military tactics.

Despite this failure, the United States signed a contract for continuing “peacekeeping, capacity enhancement, and surveillance efforts” with DynCorp in 2004, worth between $20 and $100 million. Then, earlier this year, the Bush administration assigned a $10 million job for DynCorp to provide logistical support to peacekeeping missions in Somalia.

Other private military contractors currently active in Africa include Northrop Grumman Corp, with a contract worth up to $75 million, and KBR Inc., a subsidiary of Halliburton Co., with three bases in Djibouti, Kenya and Ethiopia.

The current reliance on military contractors to carry out U.S. interests in Africa suggests that their new role in AFRICOM will be anything but what Theresa Whelan, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs, described as “in the back room.”

Although government officials like Whelan have said that the role of military contractors will be limited, it seems inevitable that they will be the face of the U.S. military in Africa under AFRICOM. With this in mind, Congress should put strict limitations on what they are allowed to do and who is held accountable if things go wrong. Ultimately, AFJN would like to see the use of military sub-contractors eliminated in Africa and will be campaigning for an end to private defense. In December, AFJN will begin a petition to ask Congress to put an end to such irresponsible foreign policy and we sincerely hope you will lend your support. Visit www.afjn.org for more about AFRICOM and what you can do to counter this new command.

–By Mary Hansen

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