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think: Nation Building . . .

How Not to Win Hearts and Minds in Africa
Hushed Pentagon Investigation Slaps U.S. Africa Command’s Humanitarian Activities
By Nick Turse

DAR ES SALAAM, Tanzania -- Movie night in Mouloud, Djibouti. Skype lessons in Ethiopia. Veterinary training assistance in Garissa, Kenya. And in this country on the east coast of Africa, work on both primary and secondary schools and a cistern to provide clean water. These are all-American good works, but who is doing them -- and why?

As I sit in a room filled with scores of high-ranking military officers resplendent in their dress uniforms -- Kenyans in their khakis, Burundians and Ugandans clad in olive, Tanzanians in deep forest green sporting like-colored berets and red epaulets with crossed rifles on their shoulders -- chances are that the U.S. military is carrying out some mission somewhere on this vast continent. It might be a kidnapping raid or a training exercise. It could be an airstrike or the construction of a drone base. Or, as I wait for the next speaker to approach the lectern at the “Land Forces East Africa” conference in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, it could be a humanitarian operation run not by civilians in the aid business, but by military troops with ulterior motives -- part of a near-continent-wide campaign utilizing the core tenets of counterinsurgency strategy.

The U.S. is trying to win a war for the hearts and minds of Africa. But a Pentagon investigation suggests that those mystery projects somewhere out there in Djibouti or Ethiopia or Kenya or here in Tanzania may well be orphaned, ill-planned, and undocumented failures-in-the-making. According to the Department of Defense’s watchdog agency, U.S. military officials in Africa “did not adequately plan or execute” missions designed to win over Africans deemed vulnerable to the lures of violent extremism.

This evidence of failure in the earliest stages of the U.S. military’s hearts-and-minds campaign should have an eerie resonance for anyone who has followed its previous efforts to use humanitarian aid and infrastructure projects to sway local populations in Vietnam, Iraq, or Afghanistan. In each case, the operations failed in spectacular ways, but were only fully acknowledged after years of futility and billions of dollars in waste. In Africa, a war zone about which most Americans are completely unaware, the writing is already on the wall. Or at least it should be. While Pentagon investigators identified a plethora of problems, their report has, in fact, been kept under wraps for almost a year, while the command responsible for the failures has ignored all questions about it from TomDispatch.

Doing a Bad Job at Good Works

Today, the U.S. military increasingly confronts Africa as a "battlefield" or "battleground" or "war" in the words of the men running its operations. To that end, it has built a sophisticated logistics network to service a growing number of small outposts, camps, and airfields, while carrying out, on average, more than one mission each day somewhere on the continent. A significant number of these operations take the form of a textbook hearts-and-minds campaign that harkens back to failed U.S. efforts in Southeast Asia during the 1960s and 1970s and more recently in the Greater Middle East.

In Vietnam, the so-called civilian half of the war -- building schools, handing out soap, and offering rudimentary medical care -- was obliterated by American heavy firepower that wiped out homes, whole hamlets, and whatever goodwill had been gained. As a result, U.S. counterinsurgency doctrine was tossed into the military’s dustbin -- only to be resurrected decades later, as the Iraq War raged, by then-general and later CIA director David Petraeus.

In 2005-2006, Petraeus oversawthe revision of FM 3-24, the military's counterinsurgency (COIN) field manual, and a resulting revolution in military affairs. Soon, American military officers in Iraq and Afghanistan were throwing large sums of money at complex problems, once again with the objective of winning hearts and minds. They bought off Sunni insurgents and poured billions of dollars into nation-building efforts, ranging from a modern chicken processing plant to a fun-in-the-sun water park, trying to refashion the rubble of a failed state into a functioning one.

As with Petraeus’s career, which implodedamidst scandal, the efforts he fostered similarly went down in flames. In Iraq, the chicken processing plant proved a Potemkin operationand the much ballyhooed Baghdad water park quickly fell into ruin. The country soon followed. Less than three years after the U.S. withdrawal, Iraq teeters on the brink ofcatastrophe as most of Petraeus’s Sunni mercenaries stood aside while the brutalIslamic State carved a portion of its caliphate from the country, and others, aggrieved with the U.S.-backed government in Baghdad, sided with them. In Afghanistan, the results have been similarly dismal as America’s hearts-and-minds monies yielded roads to nowhere (where they haven’t already deteriorated into death traps), crumbling buildings, over-crowded, underfunded, and teacher-less schools, and billions poured down the drain in one boondoggle after another.

In Africa, the sums and scale are smaller, but the efforts are from the same counterinsurgency playbook. In fact, to the U.S. military, humanitarian assistance -- from medical care to infrastructure projects -- is a form of “security cooperation.” According to the latest edition of FM 3-24, publishedearlier this year:

“When these activities are used to defeat an insurgency, they are part of a counterinsurgency operation. While not all security cooperation activities are in support of counterinsurgency, security cooperation can be an effective counterinsurgency tool. These activities help the U.S. and the host nation gain credibility and help the host nation build legitimacy. These efforts can help prevent insurgencies...”

U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) and its subordinate command, Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) based at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, have spent years engaged in such COIN-style humanitarian projects. These have been touted in news releases at their websites in lieu of candid information on the true scale and scope of AFRICOM’s operations, the exponential growth of its activities, its spy operations, and shadowy base-building efforts. Take a cursory glance at its official news releases and you’ll find them crammed with feel-good stories like an effort by CJTF-HOA personnel to tutor would-be Djiboutian hotel workers in English or a joint effort by the State Department, AFRICOM, and the Army Corps of Engineers to build six new schools in Togo. Such acts are never framed in the context of counterinsurgency nor with an explicit link to U.S. efforts to win hearts and minds. And never is there any mention of failings or fiascos.

However, an investigation by the Department of Defense’s Inspector General (IG), completed last October but never publicly released, found failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting such projects. The restricted report, obtained by TomDispatch, describes a flawed system plagued by a variety of deeply embedded problems.

In some cases, military officials failed to identify how their projects even supported AFRICOM’s objectives on the continent; in others, financial documentation was missing; in still others, CJTF-HOA personnel failed to ensure that local populations were equipped to keep the small-scale projects running or effective once the Americans moved on. The risk, the report suggests, is that these signs of Washington’s goodwill and good intentions will quickly fall into disrepair and become what one American official called “monuments to U.S. failure” in Africa.

Africa is like a planet unto itself.

A rather large, complex, and disparate continent possessing hundreds of distinct/unique languages/cultures that are constrained by corrupt leadership, arbitrary boundaries and policy to destabilize Africa masked in a smile(food aid coming from distorted US agriculture policy that is typically seized by host nation authorities and sold for profit at zero cost basis at the expense of host nation sustenance farmers.

But having said that I think that whether the US attempts to genuinely help Africa or accelerate its isolationism it will have its critics.

Personally, I'd like to see some sort of fusion between Peace Corps, State Department, DOD(US Army SF), and the other OGAs to develop a plan with ultra-local micro-finance at its core.

Teach host nation locals how to be the community/village micro-finance lender while concurrently implementing control measures to mitigate corruption.

Focus on building local capacity/capability, rather than dog and pony show projects.

Having been directly involved with 3rd/4th world capacity building, I think it has a significant role to play......and combined with local led "less is more" capital injections for local infrastructure might be an approach to consider.

But I think the jury is still out on current US policies in Africa. Especially since it's so hard to see and judge performance against a baseline of corruption and chaos.

Africa is messy....expecting elegance, perfection, and perfect alignment is a bit of a stretch.

And further magnifying the problem is an equally chaotic social media meme driven public("Save our girls", "Get Kony", etc.) with an Executive branch reacting to such a social media driven and fickle public.