Moon of Alabama Brecht quote
February 21, 2007

Understanding AFRICOM - Part I

Understanding AFRICOM:
A Contextual Reading of Empire's New Combatant Command

(This is part one of Understanding AFRICOM. Published now are also part II and part III. A PDF version of the complete series is available. Your comments on this are welcome here.)

by b real


In early February 2007 the White House finally announced a presidential directive to establish by September 2008 a new unified combatant command with an area of responsibility (AOR) solely dedicated to the African continent. While there had been chatter and debate over a period of years about the form that such a military command should take, the announcement to proceed with centralizing military resources in Africa should not have surprised anyone paying attention for the past seven years.

The U.S. African Command (AFRICOM) will replace the AOR for each of three other geographic combatant commands (there are now a total of six) currently tasked with portions of the second-largest continent, with the small exception of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) retaining AOR for Egypt. Further details on operations have not been made public apart from the usual basic press briefings and the formation of a transition team, though it not a mystery to identify what role AFRICOM will play in both the U.S. and Africa's future.

In many ways, a context for the pending strategic role of AFRICOM can be gained from an understanding of the origins of CENTCOM and the role that it continues to provide in Iraq, Iran, Saudi Arabia, and the many "stans" popping up after the implosion of the former U.S.S.R. That context is centered on strategic energy supplies and, explicitly, that of oil. In the petroleum age, these energy stores - along with the territories concealing them -- have taken on great significance in the foreign policies of the industrialized nations, fueled by an insatiable fever for black gold and the seemingly instant wealth and power it delivers to its possessor. The record-breaking quarterly profits reported by the major oil "producers" over the past few years are only one symbol of the power that oil can bring.

Oil is money. But it is also much more, a crucial ingredient in the continuation of modern living as people in the major power centers have come to know it. Oil is the lifeblood of contemporary, militarized western civilization, and at least that much reality has been apparent to its planners for many decades now, especially as the natural deposits in the so-called developed nations dwindle away from over-exploitation and the centers' dependence on the periphery becomes everything.

Since the end of the Second World War and the intensified expansion of the modern industrial superpower, the ruling classes of the United States have strategized to guarantee themselves access to and delivery of hydrocarbons from the Persian Gulf region. Having experienced their own domestic production peak in the early 1970s, and perceiving themselves in battle with an international communist conspiracy determined to cast the western capitalist ideology into the dustbin of history, the increasingly powerful rulers of the U.S. pondered their dependency upon the Middle Eastern reserves -- containing perhaps 60% of all known accessible oil on the planet -- and adjusted their foreign policy programs accordingly. Not only was it imperative to secure the spigots, but in line with the trajectory of their long-worn practice of enforcing the Monroe Doctrine in their own hemisphere, by the beginning of the following decade a new doctrine would be in place to extend the U.S. military directly into the Persian Gulf.

Michael Klare describes the importance of President Jimmy Carter's decision "in response to the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan and the Islamic revolution in Iran" [1] as

...the transformation of the U.S. military into a global oil-protection service whose primary function is the guarding of overseas energy supplies as well as their global delivery systems (pipelines, tanker ships, and supply routes). This overarching mission was first articulated by President Jimmy Carter in January 1980, when he described the oil flow from the Persian Gulf as a "vital interest" of the United States, and affirmed that this country would employ "any means necessary, including military force" to overcome an attempt by a hostile power to block that flow.
When President Carter issued this edict, quickly dubbed the Carter Doctrine, the United States did not actually possess any forces capable of performing this role in the Gulf. To fill this gap, Carter created a new entity, the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF), an ad hoc assortment of U.S-based forces designated for possible employment in the Middle East. In 1983, President Reagan transformed the RDJTF into the Central Command (CENTCOM), the name it bears today. CENTCOM exercises command authority over all U.S. combat forces deployed in the greater Persian Gulf area including Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. At present, CENTCOM is largely preoccupied with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but it has never given up its original role of guarding the oil flow from the Persian Gulf in accordance with the Carter Doctrine. [2]

Indeed, as one only need recall the priority assigned to protecting the oil infrastructure in the 2003 invasion of Iraq (reportedly the campaign was to initially be named Operation Iraqi Liberation, or OIL) and the positioning of military bases along oil routes to see how central these energy supplies are to CENTCOM's missions. In fact, as Klare pointed out in an article from 2004, "[i]n the first U.S. combat operation of the war in Iraq, Navy commandos stormed an offshore oil-loading platform." [3]

Originally covering the Gulf states and the Horn of Africa (Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, and Sudan) CENTCOM's AOR expanded in the 1990s to include the newly independent Central Asian republics after President William Clinton extended the Carter Doctrine to qualify the Caspian Sea basin as another "vital interest" for securing oil and natural gas redistribution.

Paradoxically, as the military reach grew, so too did the need for more oil. The Pentagon is currently "the single largest oil consumer in the world." [4] The modern combatant command is an integral component of U.S. national security strategies regarding energy resources, plain and simple. And that is the role which AFRICOM will take up on the resource-rich continent of Africa as the amount of petroleum available globally continues to diminish. This was made clear through the Bush administration's May 2001 National Energy Policy and ensuing governmental objectives.

In May 2001 the Cheney report warned that the U.S. would grow increasingly dependent upon foreign oil in the years to come and recommended that as a matter of policy the Bush Administration work to increase production and export of oil from regions other than the Middle East, noting that Latin America and West Africa were likely to be the fastest growing sources of future U.S. oil imports. ... Three months later, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Walter Kansteiner declared that African oil "has become a national strategic interest." This statement is particularly noteworthy in that it uses the language of the Carter Doctrine in the Middle East, in which President Carter went on to declare that the U.S. would intervene by any means necessary to protect its national interest in Middle Eastern oil. In April 2002, Donald Norland, former U.S. Ambassador to Chad told a Congressional subcommittee: "It's been reliably reported that, for the first time, the two concepts -- 'Africa' and 'U.S. national security' -- have been used in the same sentence in Pentagon documents." [5]

The 2002 National Security Strategy> (NSS) outlined a blueprint for military cover enabling increased activity on the continent, positioning the global war on terror (GWOT) as both a key task for military forces and as an amorphous talking point, necessary to justify the stepped up interest in the area. The image of Africa portrayed as a haven of  "terrorist cells," "porous borders," "civil wars," "poverty" and "disease", all of which not only makes humanitarian efforts more difficult, but also "threatens .. a core value of the United States -- preserving human dignity." The document also identified "South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, and Ethiopia" as "anchors for regional engagement."

One of the only allusions to the role that the National Energy Policy played in this new NSS was the proclamation that "We will strengthen our own energy security and the shared prosperity of the global economy by working with our allies, trading partners, and energy producers to expand the sources and types of global energy supplied, especially in the Western Hemisphere, Africa, Central Asia, and the Caspian region." [6] Nigerians' ears perked up especially. To the military, the goose chase was on. All branches set their main focus on 'winning the war on terror,' and before long, as one former Bush administration official told reporter Raffi Khatchadourian, "Rumsfeld had his goons running all over the continent." [7]

The Horn of Africa

In 2002, CENTCOM's Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) began establishing a permanent forward operating base at Camp Lemonier, an old French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti, using the pretext of the GWOT.

CJTF-HOA, staffed by about 1500 troops, has the mission of "detecting, disrupting and ultimately defeating transnational terrorist groups operating in the region -- denying safe havens, external support and material assistance for transnational terrorism in the region." Initially, it was driven by concerns that terrorists fleeing from Afghanistan would be attracted to the 'vast ungoverned spaces' of the Horn of Africa. When such a mass influx failed to materialize, and the local terrorist threat proved to be relatively limited, CJTF-HOA began giving greater emphasis to its role in preventing terrorism by providing humanitarian assistance and waging a hearts and minds campaign. [8]

And a foot in the door...

Similar to the Rapid Deployment Joint Task Force (RDJTF) that preceded USCENTCOM, these operations have initiated much ground work to gain better insight into the region and increase engagement in Africa. In the majority of cases, interaction within the region meets with less resistance than that experienced by the RDJTF. Specifically with other agencies within the U.S. government, this is best evidenced by the fact that TSCTI and CJTF-HOA have significant interaction with agencies such as the Department of State or USAID. [9]

A Congressional Research Service (CRS) report in 2004 informed members of Congress that "SOF units operating with Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) are involved in training selected regional armies in counterterror and counterinsurgency tactics as well as assisting in the apprehension of terrorists operating in the region."[10] Another CRS report for Congress, this time in 2006, stated that

Originally, the reported mission of CJTF-HOA was to conduct raids on Al Qaeda targets in the region -- particularly Somalia -- but due to a lack of targets, the mission has instead evolved into gathering intelligence, military training for some of the region's military forces, and building infrastructure and goodwill to create an environment hostile to terrorist organizations.[11]

William Arkin's directory, Code Names, summarizes the role of CJTF-HOA as: "The 1,800 personnel at Camp Lemonier coordinate military operations in Kenya, Somali, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Yemen." [12] And a report to the members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) ascribes to it a more enlightened Good Samaritan mission:

Such an expansion of military-provided humanitarian and civic assistance is nowhere more evident than in the Horn of Africa. U.S. Central Command oversees some 1800 troops stationed at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, who are tasked with building health clinics, wells and schools in remote areas where government influence is weak and terrorists are known to be recruiting. In an effort to provide evidence of alternatives to religious extremism, small military teams train local forces, gain access and gather information, and provide practical assistance in an attempt to improve the lives of local residents in areas that terrorists may be targeting. [13]

Hearts, minds, and souls aside, there is more going on here, as should be expected when placing CJTF-HOA's role into the global energy protection context. As John Foster Bellamy wrote in June 2006,

At present the main, permanent U.S. military base in Africa is the one established in 2002 in Djibouti in the Horn of Africa, giving the United States strategic control of the maritime zone through which a quarter of the world's oil production passes. The Djibouti base is also close in proximity to the Sudanese oil pipeline. ... The Djibouti base allows the United States to dominate the eastern end of the broad oil swath cutting across Africa that it now considers vital to its strategic interests -- a vast strip running southwest from the 994-mile Higleig-Port Sudan oil pipeline in the east to the 640-mile Chad-Cameroon pipeline and the Gulf of Guinea in the West. [14]

In addition to Djibouti, there are prominent forward-operating bases located in Kenya, Ethiopia (two of the nations identified as regional anchors in the NSS), and Uganda, geographically situated near both the southern edge of Sudan (the part where most of the oil is) and the resource-rich, highly-prized Great Lakes region.

The first country to conclude a formal agreement with Washington for the use of local military facilities was Kenya, which signed an agreement in February 1980. The Kenyan agreement allows U.S. troops to use the port of Mombassa, as well as airfields at Embakasi and Nanyuki. These facilities were used to support the American military intervention in Somalia 1992-1994 and have been used in the past year [written in 2005] to support forces from the United States and other coalition forces involved in counter-terrorism operations in the region. The United States has signed agreements with Ghana, Senegal, Gabon, Namibia, Uganda, and Zambia to allow American aircraft to refuel at local air bases. In its efforts to secure other basing options, the United States has negotiated agreements granting it access to airfields and other facilities in several African nations. These facilities are often referred to as "lily pad" facilities, because American forces can hop in and out of them in times of crisis while avoiding the impression of establishing a permanent - and potentially provocative - presence. They include Entebbe Airport in Uganda, where the United States has built two "K-Span" steel buildings to house troops and equipment; an airfield near Bamako, the capital of Mali; an airfield at Dakar, Senegal; an airfield in Gabon; and airfields and port facilities in Morocco and Tunisia. [15]

Investigative reporter Keith Harmon Snow, in an article from 2004, wrote of training camps in Ethiopia:

In 2003, the U.S. Army's 10th Mountain Division (Special Operations Forces) completed a three-month program to train an Ethiopian army division in counter-terrorism tactics. Operations are coordinated through the Combined Joint Task Forces-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) base in Djibouti. In January 2004, Special Operations soldiers from the 3rd U.S. Infantry Regiment replaced the 10th Mountain Division forces at a new Hurso Training Camp, northwest of Dire Dawa near the border with Somalia, to be used for launching local joint missions in "counter-terrorism" with the Ethiopian military. Soldiers will continue to operate missions out of Hurso for several months from a new forward base names "Camp United." From April 12-25, 2003, under the U.S. State Department-sponsored Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program, CJTF-HOA provided instruction to nearly 900 Ethiopian soldiers at a base in Legedadi. CJTF-HOA forces from the U.S. Army's 478th Civil Affairs Battalion also operated in Ethiopia in 2003 in and around Dire Dawa, Galadi, and Dolo Odo, among other areas. [16]

The December 2006 invasion of Somalia was coordinated using these and other bases throughout the region. While efforts to replace the popular Islamic Courts Union in Somalia with the warlord-led Transitional Federal Government (TFG) appear to be failing, the arrival of AFRICOM may bring more boots on the ground into that unstable, geostrategic nation. Especially now that TFG spokesman Abdirahman Dinari has dangled a carrot before foreign investors: "Somalia has a lot of oil, and our ministers have just approved a key exploration law to regulate how concessions are given out.... But what we need now is international support to restore security and build our nation, and we will be noting who helps us and who doesn't when these decisions are taken." [17]

The persistent Western calls for "humanitarian intervention" into the Darfur region of Sudan also sets up another possibility for military engagement to deliver regime change in another Islamic state in the Horn. However, since the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan are grinding down available U.S. resources, for now, any increased involvement in these two areas will likely consist primarily of U.S.-organized and directed regional militaries, private contractors and mercenaries, or potentially African Union and United Nations forces. The training and arming of national militaries is taking place throughout the continent already, although the most visible efforts have been taking place in the European Command's AOR.

Go to Part II.
A PDF version of the complete series is available.
Your comments on this are welcome here.


1. Michael Klare, "Oil Wars: Transforming the American Military into a Global Oil-Protection Service," TomDispatch, October 7, 2004, [link]
2. Michael Klare, "The Global Energy Race and Its Consequences," TomDispatch, January 14, 2007, [link]
3. Klare, "Oil Wars"
4. Sohbet Karbuz, "US Military Oil Pains," Energy Bulletin, February 17, 2007, [link]
5. Letitia Lawson, "U.S. Africa Policy Since the Cold War", Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 1 (January 2007), [link]
6. The National Security Strategy of the United States, September 2002, [link]
7. Raffi Khatchadourian, "War in the Greatest Desert: The U.S. Military's $500 Million Gamble to Prevent the Next Afghanistan," International Reporting Project, Spring 2005, [part one] [part two]
8. Lawson
9. CDR Otto Sieber, "Africa Command: Forecast for the Future", Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 1 (January 2007), [link]
10.  U.S. Special Operations Forces (SOF): Background and Issues for Congress, CRS Report for Congress, Sept 28, 2004, [link]
11. CRS Report for Congress, "U.S. Military Operations in the Global War on Terrorism: Afghanistan, Africa, the Philippines, and Colombia," January 20, 2006, available at [link]
12. William M. Arkin, "Code Names: Deciphering U.S. Military Plans, Programs, and Operations in the 9/11 World," (Steerforth Press, 2005), p.45
13. "Embassies As Command Posts in the Anti-Terror Campaign," A Report to Members of the Committee on Foreign Relations, United States Senate, December 15, 2006, p.9, [link]
14. John Bellamy Foster, "A Warning to Africa: The New U.S. Imperial Grand Strategy," Monthly Review, June 2006, [link]
15. Daniel Volman, "U.S. Military Programs in Sub-Saharan Africa, 2005-2007," African Security Research Project, [link]
16. Keith Harmon Snow, "State Terror in Ethiopia: Another secret war for oil?," Z Magazine Online, May 2004, [link]
17. Daniel Wallis, "Oil profits boost east Africa exploration," Reuters, [link]

Posted by b on February 21, 2007 at 13:50 UTC | Permalink


Thanks b real - we certainly neglect Africa here except for the links and news you put to us.

A good source is the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars which has reports on U.S. Military Programs in sub-Saharan Africa, 2001-2003 and U.S. MILITARY PROGRAMS IN SUB-SAHARAN AFRICA, 2005-2007. Especially of interests are the ACRI and ACOTA programs where U.S. special forces are training African troops.

I wonder if the "School of the Africas" has already opened up.

Posted by: b | Feb 21 2007 16:28 utc | 1

UN consents Somalia peacekeepers

Mogadishu 21, Feb.07 ( Sh.M.Network) The U.N. Security Council authorized for six months an African Union peacekeeping mission to Somalia on Tuesday as mortar attacks pounded the capital Mogadishu and the northeast African country spiraled further into chaos.

The resolution, adopted unanimously, calls on African Union troops to take "all necessary measures" to provide government, infrastructure and humanitarian security and training for Somali security forces.
It also lifts a 1992 arms embargo and says the import of weapons are to be used by this force only. Outside experts hired by the Security Council reported last year that Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria provided illegal weapons to the Islamists while Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen helped supply the interim government.

The resolution "reiterates its intention to consider taking measures against those who seek to prevent or block a peaceful political process, threaten the transitional federal institutions by force or take action that undermines stability in Somalia or the region."

Security Council authorizes African-led peace mission in Somalia

20 February 2007 – The United Nations Security Council today authorized the African Union to establish a mission in Somalia aimed at helping the war-ravaged country, which has not had a functioning government for over a decade and a half, to achieve national reconciliation and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Through a unanimous resolution adopted under Chapter VII of the UN Charter – which allows for enforcement measures – the Council decided that the operation, to be known as AMISOM, will support dialogue and reconciliation in Somalia by assisting with the free movement, safe passage and protection of all those involved with the process.

The new mission overrides a previous Council-authorized operation led by the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), a regional body, which had a more limited mandate. It will provide protection to the Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs) to help them carry out their functions of government, and security for key infrastructure.

In addition, AMISOM, will assist to the extent possible, with carrying out the National Security and Stabilization Plan, particularly as regards the re-establishment and training of all-inclusive Somali security forces.
It welcomed the initiative of the TFIs to pursue an inclusive intra-Somali political process, citing in particular President Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed’s announced intention to convene a national reconciliation congress involving all concerned, including political leaders, clan leaders, religious leaders, and representatives of civil society.

actually, yusuf and the TFG are clan warlords. and yusuf has maintained a hardline against the ICU, continuously refusing to meet w/ any of it's representatives.

for more history on yusuf & the ongoing u.s. involvement in somalia, see james petras' recent article on The Case of Somalia

The current ‘President’ of the US puppet regime, dubbed the ‘Transitional Federal Government,’ is Abdullahi Yusuf. He is a veteran warlord deeply involved in all of the corrupt and lawless depredations that characterized Somalia from 1991 to 2006. Yusuf had been President of the self-styled autonomous Puntland breakaway state in the 1990’s.

Despite US and Ethiopian financial backing, Abdullahi Yusuf and his warlord associates were finally driven out of Mogadishu in June 2006 and out of the entire south central part of the country. Yusuf was holed up and cornered in a single provincial town on the Ethiopian border and lacked any social basis of support even from most of the remaining warlord clans in the capital. Some warlords had withdrawn their support of Yusuf and accepted the ICU’s offers to disarm and integrate into Somali society underscoring the fact that Washington’s discredited and isolated puppet was no longer a real political or military factor in Somalia. Nevertheless, Washington secured a UN Security Council resolution recognizing the warlord’s tiny enclave of Baidoa as the legitimate government. This was despite the fact that the TFG’s very existence depended on a contingent of several hundred Ethiopian mercenaries financed by the US. As the ICU troops moved westward to oust Yusuf from his border outpost -- comprising less than 5% of the country -- the US increased its funding for the dictatorial regime of Meles Zenawi in Ethiopia to invade Somalia.

the attempted installation of yusuf and his unpopular band is not working out as hoped, despite efforts to gain legitimacy through the UN. yusuf has resisted u.s. pressure to negotiate w/ what they deem the 'moderates' of the ICU in the hopes of creating divisions and weaking it.

Posted by: b real | Feb 21 2007 16:42 utc | 2

And the moral of the story is?:::::

We can't have the hungry of the world breaking Walmart's windows.

We have to keep the peace for the corporate machine everywhere.

Posted by: pb | Feb 21 2007 17:14 utc | 3


Looking forward to the next installments.

From b real´s first link (in comment #2 above):

Outside experts hired by the Security Council reported last year that Djibouti, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia and Syria provided illegal weapons to the Islamists while Ethiopia, Uganda and Yemen helped supply the interim government.

And while this is all true it is worth noting the difference that is made between breaking the embargo to supply one side with weapons ("provided illegal weapons") and breaking the embargo to supply an other side with weapons ("helped supply").

But near daily attacks blamed on ousted Islamist hard-liners have put pressure on the interim government, which is struggling to restore stability so Ethiopian troops who helped it take the capital can return home.

A wave of pre-dawn mortar attacks killed at least 16 people in Mogadishu earlier on Tuesday in one of the most brutal bombardments since the Islamists were forced out of the city.

The Security Council on Feb. 2 welcomed an African Union offer to send peacekeepers to Somalia and urged it to do so quickly after Ethiopia's Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said last month he wanted his thousands of troops out "within weeks."

So it looks unclear wheter Meles are letting his army get tied down in occupying Mogadishu. On one hand he wants to withdraw "within weeks" on the other if stability is demanded before they can withdraw, well we all know what that means.

Posted by: a swedish kind of death | Feb 21 2007 19:31 utc | 4

b real

thanks & thanks, immeasurably important information

Posted by: remembereringgiap | Feb 21 2007 22:43 utc | 5

Further comments on this are welcome in the concluding part III thread.

Posted by: b | Feb 22 2007 12:58 utc | 6

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