Some opponents of the Obama administration’s military intervention in Libya say that the leading role played by the US Africa Command demonstrates its true intent and its kinetic capacity.
“The gloves have come off,” declares Emira Woods, a US foreign policy expert at a think tank in Washington.
“Africom launched itself with all sorts of rhetoric about helping Africans help themselves. There was lots of talk about building schools, digging wells,” Ms Woods says. “What we see now in Libya is the full force of Africom’s capabilities.”
The air attacks in Libya co-ordinated by Africom “do not bode well for US engagement” in black Africa, Woods adds.
But another sceptic of the Pentagon’s role in Africa suggests it was naïve to see Africom as other than primarily a military command.
And this Washington-based analyst — Daniel Volman, director of the African Security Research Project — does not agree that the Libya operation presages a more aggressive role for Africom in black Africa.
The Libya attack “shows President Obama’s approach to be minimalistic,” Mr Volman says. “He has made clear that the United States will act [militarily] only under very specific circumstances and with an international consensus.”
Obama has been at pains, for example, “to not raise expectations of US action in Ivory Coast,” Mr Volman adds.
Africom’s leading role in the Libya intervention does not preclude it from continuing to take part in development projects in black Africa, Mr Volman continues.
Gen Carter Ham, Africom’s new commander, is meanwhile emphasising the multilateral dimensions of the operation in Libya.
“That, I think, from a military standpoint, is what we want to encourage on a regional basis in Africa,” Gen Ham said in a speech last month at Africom’s headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany.
According to an account of Gen Ham’s speech on the Africom website, a regional military response to security problems in Africa would not necessarily include US military capabilities.
Africom should focus on crisis prevention, and only be ordered to undertake military action as a last solution, he said.
From its inception in 2007, Africom has been presented by its architects as something fundamentally different than the Pentagon’s other regional commands, says Wall Street Journal reporter Nathan Hodge, author of the newly published book, Armed Humanitarians: The Rise of the Nation Builders.
In a chapter devoted to Africom, Hodge notes that “unlike a traditional military command, Africom focused heavily on humanitarian and development issues.”
Africom has undertaken civic engagement projects in Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda.