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Entries in Africom (5)

1:23PM

WSJ: "Terror Fight Shifts to Africa" (I told you so . . . in 2005)

Front-page story on the 7th of December, with subtitle "U.S. Considers Seeking Permission for Military Operations Against Extremists."

This is what I wrote in the early part of 2005, published in October of that year in Blueprint for Action: A Future Worth Creating:

CENTCOM’s AOR encompasses the Persian Gulf area extending from Israel all the way to Pakistan, the Central Asian republics formerly associated with the Soviet Union, and the horn of Africa (from Egypt down to Somalia). This is clearly the center of the universe as far as the global war on terrorism is concerned, and yet viewing that war solely in the context of that region alone is a big mistake, one that could easily foul up America’s larger grand strategic goals of defeating terrorism worldwide and making globalization truly global. Here’s why: CENTCOM’s area of responsibility features three key seams, or boundaries, between that collection of regions and the world outside. Each seam speaks to both opportunities and dangers that lie ahead, as well as to how crucial it is that Central Command’s version of the war on terrorism stays in sync with the rest of the U.S. foreign policy establishment.

The first seam lies to the south, or sub-Saharan Africa. This is the tactical seam, meaning that in day-to-day terms, there’s an awful lot of connectivity between that region and CENTCOM’s AOR. That connectivity comes in the form of transnational terrorist networks that extend from the Middle East increasingly into sub-Saharan Africa, making that region sort of the strategic retreat of al Qaeda and its subsidiaries. As Central Command progressively squeezes those networks within its area of responsibility, the Middle East’s terrorists increasingly establish interior lines of communication between themselves and other cells in Africa, as Africa becomes the place where supplies, funds (especially in terms of gold), and people are stashed for future use. Africa risks becoming Cambodia to the Middle East’s Vietnam, a place where the enemy finds respite when it gets too hot inside the main theater of combat. Central Asia presents the same basic possibility, but that’s something that CENTCOM can access more readily because it lies within its area of responsibility, while sub-Saharan Africa does not. Instead, distant European Command owns that territory in our Unified Command Plan, a system constructed in another era for another enemy. Those vertical, north-south slices of geographic commands were lines to be held in an East-West struggle, but today our enemies tend to roam horizontally across the global map, turning the original logic of that command plan on its head.

Central Command’s challenge, then, is to figure out how to connect these two regions in such a way as to avoid having Africa become the off-grid hideout for al Qaeda and others committed to destabilizing the Middle East. By definition, such a goal is beyond CENTCOM’s pay grade, or rank, because it’s a high-level political decision to engage sub-Saharan Africa on this issue—in effect, widening the war. And yet solving this boundary condition is essential to winning the struggle in the Middle East. What the Core-Gap model provides Central Command is a way of describing the problem by noting that transnational terrorism’s resistance to globalization’s creeping embrace of the Middle East won’t simply end with our successful transformation of the region. No, that struggle will inevitably retreat deeper inside the Gap, or to sub-Saharan Africa.

Why is this observation important? It’s important because it alerts the military to the reality that success in this war won’t be defined by less terrorism but by a shifting of its operational center of gravity southward, from the Middle East to Africa. That’s the key measure of effectiveness. Achieving this geographic shift will mark our success in the Middle East, but it will also buy us the follow-on effort in Africa. You want America to care more about security in Africa? Then push for a stronger counterterrorism strategy in the Middle East, because that’s the shortest route between those two points.

Ultimately, you’re faced with the larger, inescapable requirement of having to connect Africa to the Core to run this problem to ground, otherwise today’s problem for CENTCOM simply becomes tomorrow’s distant problem for EUCOM. When you make that leap of logic, the next decision gets a whole lot easier: America needs to stand up an African Command. Now, I know that sounds like a huge expansion of our strategic “requirements,” but when you consider the boundary conditions in this way, the discussion shifts from if to when.

The WSJ says the Obama Administration is thinking about asking Congress for expanded hunting authority to likely include Mali, Nigeria, Libia and others.  The focus is naturally al-Qaeda of the Islamic Maghreb's (AQIM) expanded geographic reach.

AFRICOM was authorized a little over a year after my book came out. I'm not drawing a line of causality- just pointing out I got it right.

What I got wrong about Africa back then was the speed: I saw this fight shifting over a much longer time and I saw globalization's successful embrace of Africa taking much longer.  In short, my combined optimism/pessimism was simply too slow.

12:04AM

The struggle continues to unfold across Africa

Interesting op-ed in the WSJ over the weekend, from a writer who writes frequently for the paper.

The recent spate of attacks on Muslim historic and religious sites in the ancient city of Timbuktu calls to mind the Taliban's destruction of the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan over a decade ago. The Taliban, of course, were obliterating the icons of a rival religion, as they saw it. The Salafist militias that have lately overrun Timbuktu and Mali are obliterating a rival tradition within their own faith . . .

Such incidents have now become a global phenomenon. In effect, primitive iconoclastic strains of tribal Islam have burst out of their historical isolation on the margins of civilization and coalesced globally to attack the more cosmopolitan, syncretistic and culturally advanced centers of their faith.

To Western minds, Mali denotes the most marginal of places in the African desert. But it is home to African Islam . . . 

This is the new power topography of the Muslim geosphere. Oil money has funded extremist madrassas, or religious schools, to propagate a stripped-down, one-size-fits all ideology precisely suited for pollination across impoverished regions such as Somalia, Yemen, Nigeria, the Pakistani-Afghan border and the like. With money and threats, this international extremist franchise has targeted peaceful Muslim lands where the faith had blended with local customs or become more cosmopolitan through contact with other cultures. Places, in other words, where Islam had lost its aggression and exclusivity.

Today, radicalized imams from the outside infiltrate such places and rebuke the natives for their superstitions and weakness, their relaxed and idolatrous ways. Few can resist the irruption of money and guns legitimized by a virulent Quranic rhetoric, however pious they may be.

Some of the oldest communities in Islam, loosely categorized as Sufi for their mystical bent and ecstatic rituals often involving dance and music, have come under attack . . . 

In the radical worldview, violence furnishes the litmus test: All authentic Muslims are jihadists, or holy warriors. The addition of anti-imperialism to the religious ideological mix happened under the Afghan resistance to the Russian occupation. Anti-imperialism has become so central to radical Islam's message and appeal that these days any fellow Muslim daring to demur gets branded a foreign agent.

Yet the real imperialists, the outsiders bent on conquest and control, are the radicals themselves . . . 

Been a projection of mine going back through all three books:  the Mideast middle-ages, going from a median age of about 22 to one in the early-mid 30s by the 2030s.  We are watching that journey now unfold with the Arab Spring.  So the question has long been:  where does the Salafist impulse go?

Two "bottom billion" pools:  interior Africa and Central Asia.  Basically fake states in both instances, created by outsiders.  That artificiality makes the political situation brittle enough for enough money and guns to matter.  

I've never been a betting man regarding Central Asia:  too many great powers too eager to snuff out that situation.  The Shanghai Cooperation Organisation was basically created for this purpose.

Africa doesn't offer rich soil in terms of the local Muslim, who tend to be, as the op-ed points out, moderate in just about all ways.  But I never predicted Africa was suffer this problem because of the nature of Islam there.  the problem is the weakness of the states to deflect the impulse.

That's why America created Africom - in a nutshell.  I know people want to paint the oil, but that's a weak attractor and it flows pretty much no matter what (hasn't exactly stopped out of the PG, has it these past 3 decades?).

No, I don't think radical Islam wins in Africa.  I just think it'll be the last great fight - and it won't go quickly.

10:29AM

Map of the day: AFRICOM's network of little "forts" grows

Remember, back in 2007, when I wrote the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa piece for Esquire ("The Americans have landed").  I spoke o f two dozen little forts around Africa by 2012.  Well, WAPO reports a good dozen or so mini-facilities used to fly surveillance missions - along with plenty of contractors.  Add those to the package of forward operating bases operated by AFRICOM and we are getting up there, my friends.

No, none of these equals a Fort Bragg.  As I said in my media appearances surrounding the piece, we're talking ATMs, not full-up bank branches.

But the network is growing - pretty much on the sked I laid out back then.

Why? 

Africom's animating spirit began with CJTF-HOA, which was basically a picket line established to catch bad actors migrating from SWA to Africa.  First it was naval, then it went on land, then it became a COCOM.

And COCOMs naturally grow.  They take about 20 years to mature (check out CENTCOM's history).

Good strategic projecting means there are no surprises - just things you've been waiting on and imagining for years.

 

10:42AM

Time's Battleland: PIRACY How America Settles Down Somalia (And, By Extension the Piracy Problem)

Nice Washington Post story about how the U.S. is training Ugandan soldiers (along with some from Burundi, Sierra Leone and Djibouti) in Uganda on how to do battle with Islamic extremists in Somalia – namely the al-Shabaab group affiliated with Al-Qaida. 

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

12:02AM

Time's Battleland: Africom to work Lord's Resistance Army problem with Uganda

Ugandan forces (Reuters)

WAPO and NYT reporting over the weekend that the US will send around 100 armed advisers to help the Ugandan military work the stubborn problem of the Lord's Resistance Army, a beyond-its-expiration-date insurgency that's terrorized rural populations across four states for a couple of decades now. These guys really are the worst of the worst, engaging in atrocities galore, mass rape as a tool of terror, and the forced recruitment of child soldiers. They check every box on war crimes.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland.