Did you notice the rash of AFRICOM
coverage last week? The Washington Post
and the Washington Times
(as well as the military’s own Stars and Stripes
) published articles on the U.S. military’s newest combatant command and its attempts at military-to-military cooperation and hearts-and-minds diplomacy in Africa.
As part of a seven-month operation the military is calling the Africa Partnership Station, the USS Nashville is attempting to help stabilize the waters off of West Africa, which are plagued by illegal fishing
, drug trafficking
, and illegal migration, as well as robberies and kidnappings in the Niger Delta
. According to the International Maritime Bureau, these waters are now the second-most dangerous in the world, after Somalia’s.
The Post aptly noted that the Nashville’s “mission appears to be as much about wooing Africa as about teaching maritime security.” Each time the Nashville docks, military doctors offer free checkups, and sailors repair local buildings and train host-country soldiers. This low-profile approach seems designed to allay Africans’ earlier fears of U.S. colonialism, which forced the U.S. military to headquarter AFRICOM in Germany instead of Africa.
Why the sudden surge in publicity for AFRICOM, when it’s been doing these kinds of outreach and confidence-building activities for more than a year? Perhaps President Obama, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton, and others in the new administration see AFRICOM as an example of a foreign policy that places as much emphasis on diplomacy and development as on defense. Indeed, even Secretary of Defense Bob Gates, who was appointed by former President Bush, has called for a rebalancing of the instruments of U.S. power; in 2007, he said, “We must focus our energies beyond the guns and steel of the military, beyond just our brave soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen. We must also focus our energies on the other elements of national power that will be so crucial in the coming years.”
Photos: Top—Portugal Navy Lieutenant Commander Antonio Mourinha and a Gabonese Sailor inspect a holding bay for fish after boarding an illegal fishing vessel during Africa Partnership Station (APS) Nashville’s fisheries engagement April 29, 2009. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class David Holmes) Bottom—Chief Machinist’s Mate Brian Wallace, embarked with USS Nashville for Africa Partnership Station (APS), conducts training on small boat engine repair and maintenance during a 13-day port visit to Cameroon, April 6, 2009. (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Matthew Bookwalter)