Help Africa help itself militarily

March 18, 2002|By Michael O'Hanlon

WASHINGTON - Ever since he began his run for the presidency, George Bush has criticized the use of American troops in peacekeeping capacities. But if President Bush is to hold that position, he needs to do something else to help reduce the toll of civil wars around the world, which continue to take hundreds of thousands of lives a year.

Warfare and the resulting chaos in places such as Sudan, Somalia and Sierra Leone have also provided terrorist groups such as al-Qaida with sanctuaries, training grounds and sources of illicit income from drugs and diamonds.

Unfortunately, in its 2003 budget proposal, the Bush administration has missed a golden opportunity to help African countries improve their own capacities for quelling wars on their continent.

It is doing so when the recent death of Jonas Savimbi in Angola and recent progress toward peace talks in Congo offer opportunities for bringing peace to large parts of Africa - provided that the international community is serious about providing the diplomacy, aid and stability forces needed in such efforts.

The Bush team inherited a program known as the African Crisis Response Initiative (ACRI) from the Clinton administration. Begun partly as a response to the Rwandan genocide of 1994, that promising program has made steady, if slow, progress in helping African militaries with training and non-lethal aid.

It is now ready to be expanded to more countries and to provide training and equipment for dangerous peace enforcement missions as well. Instead, the Bush administration now proposes severe cuts in funding for the program.

That is a mistake.

Although sub-Saharan African countries collectively field about 1.5 million soldiers, or 7 percent of the world's total military manpower, they are supported by defense budgets that amount to just 1.2 percent of total global defense spending.

Such meager budgets cannot provide the types of equipment and training needed for projecting power well beyond state borders. As a result, African states collectively possess an ability to deploy and properly sustain no more than about 10,000 forces in difficult stability missions.

To date, U.S. Special Forces and private American contractors together have trained about 8,000 troops from eight countries, with an ultimate goal of 12,000. A similar but temporary program known as Operation Focus Relief (OFR) provided lethal assistance to 4,000 troops from Nigeria, Senegal and Ghana for a dangerous mission in Sierra Leone, but is now winding down.

In recent years, ACRI was funded at roughly $20 million a year and OFR at a comparable level. The Bush administration now proposes a grand total of only $10 million for ACRI for 2003.

That would move things in the wrong direction. ACRI's problem in the past is that it has been too small, and too limited in scope, not too ambitious. Training typically lasts just 10 to 40 days, and only prepares troops for missions in relatively benign environments. Similar French and British programs are also too modest in scope.

The goal of an expanded ACRI should be to train and equip 50,000 or more African troops for difficult missions, not simply to prepare 10,000 for uncontested peacekeeping. Expenditures should ultimately increase by a factor of 10, not be cut by half or more. As ambitious as such spending may sound, it would still remain several times less than current U.S. military aid to the Middle East.

The Pentagon probably believes that an expanded ACRI would make too many demands on U.S. military personnel who carry out the associated training. For example, 150 Special Forces personnel were involved in OFR last year for a program focused on training just 4,000 African troops.

But private U.S. contractors would be willing to carry out the requisite functions, with only a modest level of oversight necessary by active-duty U.S. troops.

If the Bush administration is serious about wanting to help African countries help themselves, an expanded ACRI is a very good place to start.

Michael O'Hanlon is a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.