Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Economy of Force Theater

Our Africa Command (AFRICOM) has a unique responsibility. It does not prepare local allies to resist foreign aggression with American forces on the ground to help. It attempts to keep chaos at bay by building up responsible security forces so bad actors (jihadis or just tribal-based genocidal maniacs) can't rise up.

But direct American military action is not the primary method we use to fight the jihadis who are in Africa.

Basically, a command uniquely tasked with non-military missions to foster stability has, since the Libya War of 2011, faced jihadis in the areas southwest of Libya. With locals sensitive to major Western military commitments (absent a big threat, I assume), we are supporting locals who carry out the direct action rather than doing it ourselves (other than in Somalia way in the east, where direct action is occasionally taken).

Do read it all. It is interesting.

I find the warning about mission creep kind of goofy. Is the worry that we'll eventually have 150,000 troops on the ground supposed to keep us from helping locals contain and defeat the jihadis while they are a smaller problem that our low-key and small-scale training, logistics, and surveillance can make a decisive difference in achieving?

Didn't that "mission creep" worry lead us to leave Iraq too soon and allow that jihadi problem to rise to a level that put us in Iraq War 2.0?

Didn't that worry lead us to stay out of Syria and allow a jihadi problem to join the Assad problem and create mountains of dead?

Didn't that worry lead us to stay out of Libya after smashing the Khadaffi regime from the air? Which is spilling out into the rest of Africa requiring AFRICOM to seek more ways to help Africans cope with the bigger threats?

And that "mission creep" term is mis-used. Mission creep means the mission objective ratchets up. Like changing from famine relief to nation building in Somalia in the early 1990s without increasing resources to match that (and without a debate at home).

Our mission in Africa is pretty stable: promoting stability and states capable of maintaining that stability. With jihadis on the march, we find that we've increased our means to achieve that mission.

So maybe you want to worry about "means creep." But you then have to explain why the mission isn't important enough to match an increasing threat with increasing force capabilities on our side.

If that worries you, take heart! Europe, Asia, and the Middle East all have higher priority in committing American military power. AFRICOM is not a high priority for resources.

Perhaps only our South American command has less pressing routine needs and resources. But they at least have the large American military force in the United States very close by in case they need help.

What AFRICOM is trying to do is key to preventing the many problems from escalating to the point where only 150,000 American troops can resolve the situation and prevent a major threat to America from arising.

UPDATE: While AFRICOM's new missions are addressing the symptoms of the problem, the source of the building problems is beyond its capabilities portfolio:

Wahhabism, funded and promoted by the Saudis, has increasingly come to Africa. And when you mix jihadist ideology with other factors in Africa—”weak states, poorly policed frontiers, rapid population growth and large pools of underemployed young men to the mix,” as we once wrote—the situation will likely worse before it gets better.

Will efforts to build stronger states withe rule of law be undone by transnational forces that look to their god for law?