AFRICOM: Send in the Marines

With all the renewed focus on Africa lately (the political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe, pirates in Somalia, Sarah Palin thinking its a country), its interesting to see this bit of news:

November 21, 2008: The U.S. Marine Corps has added its contingent (Marine Corps Forces Africa) to the new AFRICOM (Africa Command), that was created last year. AFRICOM is similar in organization to other commands (Central, for the Middle East, and South, for Latin America, etc). AFRICOM will coordinate all American military operations in Africa. Before, those operations were coordinated between two commands (the one covering Europe and the one covering Latin America). The establishment of AFRICOM means more money for counter-terror operations in Africa, and more long range projects.

Three years ago, the marines assigned a force of 2,500 specially trained troops to SOCOM (Special Operations Command.) Bowing to pressure from the Department of Defense, and SOCOM, the marines were the last of the services to make such a contribution. Created in 1987, SOCOM gained control over army Special Forces (including Civil Affairs, Psychological Warfare and special helicopter units), navy SEALs and air force commandoes and special aviation units. But the marines said they had nothing to offer.

Part of the marine SOCOM force consists of 400 marines trained to provide military instruction for foreign armed forces. This has long been a Special Forces chore, and will still be. But the addition of marine training troops will take some of the pressure off Special Forces to provide this service. These marines will be called on by AFRICOM to train troops in African nations. The marines have already been doing this at the behest of SOUTHCOM and EURCOM, which had previously handled such matters in Africa. The rest of the marines in SOCOM are commando and other special operations jobs.

AFRICOM is currently based in the U.S. and Germany. A support complex is located near SOUTHCOM headquarters, outside Miami, Florida. AFRICOM headquarters are currently located outside Stuttgart, Germany, where it will remain until a home can be found in an African country.

One thing most African nations do want from AFRICOM are military and counter-terrorism trainers. The problem with this is that, the people so trained are often then employed as enforcers for the local dictator. Even providing training for peacekeepers can backfire, for those peacekeeping skills can also be used to pacify your own people. The marines have a good reputation in Africa for training local troops, no matter how they end up using their new skills.


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