Africa in the QDR

The Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) published by the DefenseDepartment is generally taken as a (not 'the') roadmap for future strategy and force structuring of United States Armed Forces. As such, it is a good read. Frequently, the more interesting read is what various groups "hear" in the document and what they highlight. Looking at the Voice of America (VOA), it is noteworthy they highlighted a small theme in the report: Africa. Within the 92 page report, Africa does not get too much attention.

Under the headline Africa Gets Attention in US Defense Policy Review, the VOA reports:

"The Special Forces community is uniquely suited to working with foreign militaries," said Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Theresa Whelan. "That is one of their mission elements. So the fact that we will have more Special Forces available, I think, is a good thing for Africa."

The Defense Department report terms Africa a 'key…operational area' for U.S. Special Forces, as they pursue their mission of training foreign military personnel. It also mentions Africa in sections on counter-terrorism and international military cooperation. And it praises the peacekeeping efforts of the Economic Community of West African States.

Using the Special Forces as diplomats is not new and not unusual in a difficult and dangerous AO such as the Horn of Africa. The specific mention of Africa itself is important as the profile of the continent continues to rise for a variety of reasons.

"Large, macro-level strategic documents that the Defense Department has produced in the past have never really even mentioned Africa in such a substantive and detailed way," she said. "We might get a brief mention, but to go into that kind of depth, I think, is indicative of, sort of, the shift in thinking regarding the nature of the threat environment in the 21st Century, where we're paying more attention to places like Africa."

Looking at the QDR itself, it moves from a macro to meso focus, getting more specific:

In East Africa, the Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is currently helping to build host-nation capacity in Kenya, Ethiopia and Djibouti. Operating across large areas but using only small detachments, CJTF-HOA is a prime example of distributed operations and economy of force. Military, civilian, and allied personnel work together to provide security training and to perform public works and medical assistance projects, demonstrating the benefits of unity of effort. Steps toward more effective host nation governance have improved local conditions and set the stage to minimize tribal, ethnic, and religious conflict, decreasing the possibility of failed states or ungoverned spaces in which terrorist extremists can more easily operate or take shelter.

The language here is noteworthy as it broadens from the kinetic security to more abstract nation building, the building of state capacity. The role of the US military, as it sees it, is to operate within the civil sphere more frequently to mitigate the societal causes of conflict. Building the capacity of states to govern themselves and their territory, the domain of USAID / State / and other civilian agencies, are led by the military. Beachheads in these ungoverned spaces is a proprietary act of the Pentagon, as the QDR lays it out.

Shifting west, but not all the way to the coast...

In the Trans-Sahara region, the U.S. European Command’s Counter-Terrorism Initiative is helping regional states develop the internal security forces and procedures necessary for policing their national territories. This initiative uses military and civilian engagements with partners in northern and western Africa to counter emerging terrorist extremist threats. In Niger, for example, a small team of combat aviation advisors has helped Niger’s Air Force hone its skills to prevent the under-developed eastern part of the country from becoming a safe haven for transnational terrorists.

It is worth a look at EUCOM's current missions (African Regional Operations and Initiatives, you'll need to scroll down) and note the emphasis on the Trans-Sahara and not the Gulf of Guinea or the coast south of the Gulf. Also, be aware that the European Command overseas most of Africa with the Horn going to Central Command (CENTCOM).

If we look to (the good parts of) UN Peacekeeping as a model, we know that military troops are not always the best fit for PKO and stabilization operations. Sometimes civilian police, trained much differently than troops, need to be brought in for training and necessary indoctrination.

There are a few other references to Africa which are, as the VOA report describes, minor and inconsequential. Noteworthy is that public diplomacy, civil-affairs to the military (but increasingly less so when you listen to Rumsfeld), is more prominent in the language around the Horn than in the West, near the Gulf of Guinea. This isn't surprising when considering the more immediate (more evidence of emphasis on the short-term) threat of the terrorist presence in the Horn and the lack of infrastructure. The Gulf of Guinea region probably got less 'play' on this because there already exists nominal infrastructure and governments, corrupt and failing as they are.

Most important to the emphasis on state building in the East may be the overt competition with the Chinese in the region. Unfortunately, the language to state building (not 'nation' building) should have been forcefully and purposefully applied, with explicit intentions to partner with State and perhaps even the Department of Justice (for law enforcement resources).

It is unfortunate the US does not lead with a more visible civilian / non-military foot like the Chinese. It is more interesting that the VOA is highlighting the military as America's presence in the region which is hard to miss. Much easier to miss is the non-uniformed presence of USAID and, more importantly, other US civilian agencies to establish long-term partnerships beyond specific projects.

For more on the QDR, see's QDR site or the Defense Strategy Review site that includes critical commentary.