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.
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 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, published earlier this year:
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.
Across Africa, the U.S. military is engaged in a panoply of aid projects with an eye toward winning a war of ideas in the minds of Africans and so beating back the lure of extremist ideologies -- from that of Boko Haram in Nigeria to Somalia’s al Shabab. These so-called civil-military operations, or CMOs, include “humanitarian assistance” projects like the construction or repair of schools, water wells and waste treatment systems, and “humanitarian and civic assistance” (HCA) efforts, like offering dental and veterinary care.
Kindness may be its own reward, but in the case of the U.S. military, CMO benevolence is designed to influence foreign governments and civilian populations in order to “facilitate military operations and achieve U.S. objectives.”
According to the Pentagon, humanitarian assistance efforts are engineered to improve “U.S. visibility, access, and influence with foreign military and civilian counterparts,” while HCA projects are designed to “promote the security and foreign policy interests of the United States.”
In the bureaucratic world of the U.S. military, these small-scale efforts are further divided into “community relations activities,” like the distribution of sports equipment, and “low-cost activities” such as seminars on solar panel maintenance or English-language discussion groups. Theoretically at least, add all these projects together and you’ve taken a major step toward winning Africans away from the influence of extremists. But are these projects working at all? Has anyone even bothered to check?
The IG did manage to review 49 of 137 identified humanitarian assistance and civic assistance projects, which cost U.S. taxpayers about $9 million, and found that the military officials overseeing CMO “did not adequately plan or execute” them in accordance with AFRICOM’s “objectives.” Examining 66 community relations and low cost activities, investigators found that CJTF-HOA had failed to accurately identify their strategic objectives for, or maintained limited documentation on, 62% of them.
Examining a sample of projects, the Pentagon’s investigators found that 73% of the time CJTF-HOA personnel failed to collect sufficient data 30 days after completion of projects, to assess whether it achieved the stated objectives.
Winning Hearts and Minds or Losing Money and Influence?
Nearly a year has passed since the drafting of the Inspector General’s report. During that time, neither AFRICOM nor CJTF-HOA has publicly addressed it or announced any changes based upon its recommendations. In the meantime, the hearts and minds of allied African military leaders appear unswayed by AFRICOM’s efforts. Over two days at the “Land Forces East Africa” conference here in Dar es Salaam, I listened to generals and defense analysts from around the region speak on security matters affecting Burundi, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Tanzania. They touched on the key issues -- extremism, terrorism, and piracy -- that the American hearts-and-minds campaign is meant to counter, but the United States was hardly mentioned. Tanzanian officers I talked with, for instance, were pleased to be receiving American funds, but less so with direct U.S. interventions of any type on the continent. None I spoke with seemed aware of AFRICOM’S hearts-and-minds work like clean water projects or school construction in underdeveloped rural areas not so very far from where we’ve been sitting.
Even Egan O’Reilly, an Army officer attached to the U.S. Embassy here, whose job is to facilitate “security cooperation” activities, “We’ve done everything from helping bring down trainers for military intelligence courses to building their own schoolhouse for intelligence work,” he tells me.
What about the building of primary and secondary schools, the humanitarian assistance projects? “I haven’t seen a whole lot of AFRICOM work myself,” replies the West Point graduate and veteran of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Logistics training and engineering instruction for African militaries, that’s “the important stuff.”
TomDispatch also sought interviews with U.S. defense attachés in Ethiopia, Djibouti, and Kenya for assessments of the humanitarian projects in those respective countries. The latter two embassies failed to respond to the requests, while a spokesperson for the U.S. mission in Ethiopia thanked me for my interest but told me that the defense attaché “is not currently available for an interview.” No one, it appears, is eager to talk about the textbook counterinsurgency campaign being carried out by the U.S. military in Africa, let alone the failures chronicled in an IG report that’s been withheld from the public for almost a year.
For the last decade, we’ve been inundated with disclosures about billions of U.S. tax dollars squandered on counterinsurgency failures in Iraq and Afghanistan, stories of ruined roads and busted buildings, shoddy schoolhouses and wasteful water parks, all in the name of winning hearts and minds. Below the radar, similar -- if smaller scale -- efforts are well underway in Africa. Already, the schools are being built, already the water projects are falling to pieces, already the Department of Defense’s Inspector General has identified a plethora of problems. It’s just been kept under wraps. But if history is any guide, humanitarian efforts by AFRICOM and Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa will grow larger and ever more expensive, until they join the long list of projects that have become “monuments to U.S. failure” around the world.
Nick Turse from here with more and links