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A Cause of and Solution to Extremism: A Case for CMO Capacity Building in African Partner Forces

As the United States begins to transform its foreign policy and security strategy to adapt to what the 2017 National Security Strategy (NSS) refers to as “a return to Great Power Competition (GPC)”[i] one geographic region that has endured a substantial reduction in funding and troop commitments is Africa.  While there are no great power competitors amongst the 53 countries that constitute United States Africa Command’s (USAFRICOM) Area of Responsibility (AOR) multiple countries within the region are at the forefront of ongoing efforts that clearly fall within what Joint Doctrine Note 1-19 defines as the competition continuum[ii].  From increasing Russian military partnerships to strategic Chinese economic development projects, rival nations are seeking to advance their interests and increase their influence within Africa over that of the United States.  By 2050 Africa will be the world’s largest market in terms of number of consumers as current demographic trends predict that 25% of the world’s population will reside in sub-Saharan Africa within three decades[iii], therefore making establishing equitable long-term relationships with key partners while concurrently fostering stability vital to both U.S. economic and security interests. 

In addition to competition for influence between great powers, the continent of Africa remains plagued by the damage and chaos wrought by violent extremists across many of its diverse regions.  Boko Haram and ISIS-West Africa persist in the regions around the Lake Chad Basin helping to create a humanitarian crisis that has led to 2.7 million displaced across the region[iv]. Al Shabaab continues to attack fledgling institutions of governance in Somalia, the second most fragile state in the world per the Fund for Peace’s yearly index[v].  ISIS and other entities attempt to expand their influence in Northern Africa enabling unfettered flow of illegal migration towards our closest allies in Europe.  In his 2018 address to Congress, General Thomas D. Waldhauser, then Commander USAFRICOM addressed these and other ongoing concerns:

“U.S. Africa Command supports our African partners in building the capability and the capacity to develop local solutions to radicalization, destabilization, and persistent conflict. By making targeted investments and maintaining strong partnerships, we can set the basic security conditions needed for good governance and development to take root. Africa, our allies, the U.S., and the world stand to benefit from a secure, stable, and prosperous Africa.” [vi]

General Waldhauser’s intent and vision for a secure and stable Africa is a construct that Civil Affairs (CA) has a unique and critical role in achieving, specifically through the creation and implementation of an AFRICOM wide Civil Military Operations (CMO) capacity-building program for partner forces.   A CA-led CMO development program as outlined in this article has three primary outcomes:  (1) The generation of security forces that can work by, with, and through civil populations at the tactical and operational level, accounting for civil considerations and mitigating second order effects often used by extremist organizations in influence and messaging campaigns. (2) Increasing the projection of partner nation governance within vulnerable populations through the promotion of an inter-ministerial approach and more pragmatic security elements.  (3) Increased understanding of the complex human terrain throughout the various regions of Africa and the facilitation of transregional collaboration between USG and African Partners.  Furthermore, a CA-led CMO program will directly enhance the Joint Force’s ability to campaign through both cooperation and competition below levels of conflict throughout the continent of Africa supporting the framework established by both the Joint Concept for Integrated Campaign (JCIC) and the Competition Continuum and codified ass objective 3 of AFRICOM “U.S. access and influence are ensured.”  To facilitate the maximum use of the limited amount of CA elements allocated to AFRICOM it is essential to create a named operation or program of record such as United States Southern Command’s (USSOUTHCOM) Civil Affairs Engagement Program (CAEP) to enable long term success in any CMO development program.




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