As one of its principal missions, AFRICOM states that it will offer “the kind of support that will enable African governments and existing regional organizations… to have greater capacity to provide security and respond in times of need.” To that end, AFRICOM provides training and equipping of African militaries – something AFJN strongly opposes – as well as other logistical and intelligence support. As we cautioned at the outset, rather than increase African security, AFRICOM’s tasks will likely destabilize communities. This has already become apparent in northeastern D.R. Congo where the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) has displaced at least 100,000 civilians and killed over 900 as a result of a poorly planned military attack.
In mid-December, the Uganda People’s Defense Forces (UPDF) executed Operation Lightning Thunder, a military strike against the LRA (see “Ugandan Rebels Retaliate Against Government Attack”) in Garamba Park, Congo. As it turns out, the UPDF were not acting alone in their mission. They received ample support from the new U.S. Africa Command, which employed 17 military strategists to help plan the operation. AFRICOM also provided satellite phones, intelligence, and $1 million in fuel, according to a recent New York Times article.
Since the attack, the Ugandan military has come under criticism for failing to adequately protect civilians and for executing what appears to be a poorly planned operation. If this is what we have to expect from AFRICOM’s increased military-to-military cooperation, it is time to call for AFRICOM’s dissolution, now more than ever. This was the first direct military action that AFRICOM helped plan, and it failed miserably. At least 900 people have died since the invasion, mainly due to retaliatory attacks from the LRA, which still looms large even after two months of sustained military pressure. Thus, not only were civilians left vulnerable, but the UPDF still hasn’t done what it entered D.R. Congo to do – capture or kill Joseph Kony and disband the LRA High Command.
After decades of supporting corrupt dictators and harmful military operations around the world, the United States must learn that it cannot solve problems with a purely military-based solution. The escalation of the role of the Pentagon under the Bush Administration has resulted in an empowerment of the military in Africa, something AFJN has cautioned against for years. Rather than AFRICOM, the U.S. should boost its civilian resources on the continent and should lend its support to the African Union to allow Africa to provide for its own security.
It is our hope that under an Obama Administration, the military budget will be cut, recognizing that such spending is both ineffective and unnecessary. During this economic recession, it is particularly important to re-evaluate the United States’ priorities in the arenas of domestic and foreign policy. As retired Ambassador David Passage argues (http://www.afsa.org/fsj/feb09/speakingOut.pdf) , AFRICOM is neither economically nor politically feasible and should be discontinued. Not only does AFRICOM put a military face on U.S. engagement with the continent, but it appears that civilians are now caught in the crossfire. We urge you to contact your member of Congress and tell them that, recognizing the failed Uganda mission, the U.S. must follow a more diplomatic approach in its relations with African countries.
Written by Beth Tuckey