A-Teams for Africa

May 15, 1992

If you wanted the United States to aid Africa, especially its smaller countries, and then asked what form that aid should take, you might come up with technical assistance in commercial technologies, loans for capital development, medical assistance, AIDS prevention, agricultural production.

What you are unlikely to think up is a need for training by Army Special Forces A-teams, expert in weapons, demolition and counter-insurgency tactics. Whether most Americans would favor governments or insurgents in a volatile African country could only be answered case by case.

Nonetheless, as Sun reporter Richard H. P. Sia first revealed on March 15, the State Department and Pentagon have quietly expanded a policy of such military training visits over the past 22 months by convincing African governments and military establishments to want them. The goal was put by a State Department official at 25 such missions a year, triple the level of 1991.

Africa's great problems have been economic paralysis, hunger, AIDS, social breakdown, dictatorship, looting from the top and subversion from outside regimes such as Libya's and South Africa's. Armies have more often been the problems than the solutions. Few experts would suggest that the way to bring stability, prosperity and health to Africa is to make military establishments better at what they do -- which in most desperately poor Third World countries is to demand special wealth, perks and status.

Herman J. Cohen, assistant secretary of state for African affairs, told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that "Contact with African miltaries is extremely important as African countries make their transitions to democratic governance. . .These militaries can either aid the transition process or be effective roadblocks." Does that mean promote coups or prevent them? The U.S. record in the smaller republics of this hemisphere is not wholly reassuring.

Another interpretation is that the Pentagon is trying to find new missions to occupy personnel at a time of dwindling budgets and crises. That the U.S. needs to retain a powerful military establishment for future uncertainties is beyond doubt. But if aid missions to Africa are going to be used as make-work for Washington bureaucracies threatened with down-sizing, other departments are more appropriate. Such as Health and Human Services, Education, Agriculture, Commerce and Justice. How about sending their A-teams?

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