Building things rather than blowing them up is how New York Times
columnist Nicholas Kristof describes
a primary approach of one U.S. military base in the Horn of Africa. In his March 3 column, Kristof, who regularly writes on humanitarian, poverty, health, and development issues in the region, writes approvingly of the recognition within the U.S. military’s Central Command (CENTCOM) that force and fear alone are not going to win the war on terror. As evidence Kristof cites the actions and words of the U.S. military.
“The U.S. started to realize that there’s more to counterterrorism than capture-kill kinetics,” said Capt. Patrick Myers of the Navy, director of plans and policy here. “Our mission is 95 percent at least civil affairs. … It’s trying to get at the root causes of why people want to take on the U.S.” Kristof describes the possibility of the traditional warfighting mission coexisting alongside increased humanitarian roles.
The 1,800 troops here do serve a traditional military purpose, for the base was used to support operations against terrorists in Somalia recently and is available to reach Sudan, Yemen or other hot spots. But the forces here spend much of their time drilling wells or building hospitals; they rushed to respond when a building collapsed in Kenya and when a passenger ferry capsized in Djibouti. Kristof suggests this muscular humanitarian mission should be central to the new Africa Command the U.S. military recently announced. Standing up this regional command will mean breaking most of sub-Saharan Africa out of European Command where most of it save the Horn and North Africa has historically been situated. While some may question whether outside military interventions aren’t more the problem than the solution, the emphasis on a military humanitarian role recognizes security and stability as a necessary precondition for lasting development.
Rear Adm. James Hart, commander of the task force at Camp Lemonier, suggested that if people in nearby countries feel they have opportunities to improve their lives, then “the chance of extremism being welcomed greatly, if not completely, diminishes.”
For the historically inclined, it is worth remembering that General Anthony Zinni, the Marine four star who headed CENTCOM just before the war in Iraq, had internalized these lessons and practiced humanitarian and development engagement to support his stability missions. Unfortunately it was thinking like his that was jettisoned when the Iraq war started.