In light of the recent attack by pirates off the coast of Somali against a cruise liner, the importance of the Horn of Africa as a key objective in the Global War on Terror is increasingly apparent.
The Horn of Africa is the northeast portion of Africa. CENTCOM's Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) defines its area of responsibility as Kenya, Somalia, Ethiopia, Sudan, Eritrea, Djibouti, Yemen and Seychelles and was fielded in 2002.
A Humanitarian Focus
CJTF, led by Marine Maj. Gen. Timothy Ghormley, is not your typical Joint Task Force. With over 1,500 soldiers in the task force, its job is more diplomatic than war-fighting.
"Task force commander Marine Maj. Gen. Timothy Ghormley very proudly tells one and all that no one in his command has 'fired a shot in anger,' but the command may have prevented hundreds of young men and women in the region from embracing the terrorist philosophy. 'My combat forces are doctors, veterinarians, engineers and dentists,' Ghormley said during an interview at his headquarters today."
To "win the hearts and minds" of the people in the Horn of Africa, his soldiers perform:
- Humanitarian assistance
- Medical care for those who have no access to it (up to 40 visits)
- Veterinary care of the livestock of regional animals (up to 40 visits)
- Digging wells to provide clean water for villages (11 wells)
- Building and renovating of schools (33 schools)
The structure of CJTF is novel indeed and maybe the future of more such operations.
"Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld has called the command a model for the future of DoD. But the task force may become a model for the entire government. Planners are working on a reorganization that would include all agencies that can help."
Other agencies that may be brought in to assist CJTF could include the Department of Justice, Treasury and Agriculture along with the efforts already underway by the US State Department.
Working Multilaterally rather than Unilaterally
Rather than a unilateral approach, the US has stressed the "coalition of the willing" approach. The British, Dutch, French, Romanians and Koreans are among countries taking part. However, even with a multilateral approach, there are several challenges. This excellent Asia Times Online by Michael A. Weinstein lays out the challenges.
"The danger of the new strategy is that Washington will be drawn into choosing sides in regional and domestic conflicts, and will face backlashes if it supports the losing side...
In a frank appraisal of his mission, Ghormley said that the major requirement for its success and his major difficulty was gaining access to the region's countries, except for Djibouti. Among the four core states of the Horn, the CJTF is barred from Somalia because Washington has ceded responsibility there to the African Union; it is unwelcome in Eritrea, which accuses Washington of backing Ethiopia in the border dispute between the two countries, and it has achieved solid footholds in Ethiopia and Djibouti."
Therefore, the efforts of the task force to build goodwill among the nations it is active in is critical to its long-term success. Their efforts build goodwill and promote long-term stability in relations between the US and the African nations.
A Generational Mission
The US efforts in the Horn of Africa are visionary, for the mission is not one of days or even years, but is a generational commitment. In a recent press conference with Gen Ghormley, he spoke of the generational component of the mission.
"'What you have is an area that is at the crossroads,' he said. 'You have nations that want to go forward, that want to join the greater population. They wish to become a part of a functioning society. We want to give a regional approach. We want them to be able to enjoy this fidelity and security.'
...The work the military is doing in the Horn of Africa is generational, meaning it will leave a lasting impact, Ghormley said, and it proves that U.S. forces can be used for something other than conflict."
The Horn of Africa is a critical piece in the Global War on Terror, for it is part of an "arc of instability" with a large Muslim population that can and is being radicalized by al-Qaeda. It is more than a mission to attack terrorists but to reduce the ability for terrorists to recruit new fighters for Iraq, Afghanistan and beyond for suicide bombings and direct attacks on innocent people.
However, Gen. Ghormley's leadership, along with his Marines, are leaving the mission as the US Navy will be taking over the CJTF with an unnamed admiral as its head, allowing the Marines to tackle responsibilities elsewhere (Source Winds of Change).
Additional Source Documents
- "A Long US March in Africa", Asia Times, November 11, 2005 (excellent critical analysis of US foreign policy in the Horn of Africa)
- "Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa", Global Security (good overview of CJTF)
- Joint Command Task Force - Horn of Africa website
- "Joint Task Force Troops Donate Time, Care to Animals", American Forces Press Service June 19, 2003