U.S. Africa Command's Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance Division (CN) provides about $20 million in annual assistance to African partner nations to help improve their capacity to combat transnational narcotics trafficking. Ordinarily the U.S. Department of Defense is restricted to military-to-military engagements, but special legislation allows the U.S. military to partner with civilian law enforcement agencies in counternarcotics initiatives.
The command's counternarcotics efforts are inherently interagency, working with African ministries of commerce, customs, defense, interior, and justice; and U.S. agencies including the Drug Enforcement Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, and the U.S. Coast Guard. Because other U.S. government agencies are involved in Africa, CN carefully coordinates its efforts to ensure there is no duplication of effort and initiatives are complementary.
During a recent trip to Central Africa, U.S. Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, AFRICOM's deputy to the commander for civil-military activities, was able to visit CN-funded projects in Gabon and Sao Tome and Principe.
"Drug trafficking is a destabilizing factor that threatens global security and a multilateral approach is necessary to counter its harmful effects," Holmes said. "AFRICOM's Counternarcotics and Law Enforcement Assistance Division allows us to engage and assist our African partners in ways that are not always military related but contribute to overall stability and security."
During his stop in Gabon, Holmes was able to see a portable hangar installed for the Gabonese Navy in 2010. The hangar, commonly referred to as a "clam-shell," houses the navy's ultralight aircraft used in coastal patrols and in counternarcotics surveillance operations. Holmes learned about the program from Commander Jean Blaise Nzamba Ngouangui, deputy chief of naval operations in charge of operations; Commander Christian Remanda, chief of maritime region, and pilots from the Gabonese Navy.
The second project Holmes toured was the newly-renovated Customs House in Sao Tome and Principe (STP). In partnership with STP's Treasury Department and the Millennium Challenge Corporation, AFRICOM provided funds to assist in the modernization and capacity development of STP's customs service, including physical infrastructure and systems that enhance the country's border security capabilities, such as counternarcotics operations.
The CN-funded project in STP was under the umbrella of a larger Millennium Challenge Corporation Threshold Country Program agreement designed to assist STP to improve its tax and customs administration and enforcement and to streamline its business registration procedures. Since February 2011, STP's customs revenues have steadily increased providing a revenue stream for future investment and projects, such as planned expansion and improvements at the STP port.
Pedro Nobre de Carvalho, the U.S. Embassy's Security Cooperation Office's security assistant, explained that a small amount of money goes a long way in STP. "The customs house offers one central location that has reduced a process that used to take multiple days at multiple locations, down to one day at one central location," Nobre de Carvalho explained. "Before there were lots of ways to cut corners and the process was very confusing."
Holmes said he was pleased to see the tangible results of projects AFRICOM has helped finance in the region.
"In my meetings, Gabonese and Sao Tomean officials expressed interest in strengthening maritime and land border security to guard against piracy, illegal fishing, illegal immigration, drug trafficking and other illicit activities," Holmes said. "Our partners, who understand the connection between stability and security and economic development, are making good use of our past and current security cooperation and investments. AFRICOM will continue its partnership with countries in the region as they work to strengthen their capabilities to secure their lands and waters, which benefit us all."
The Gabonese Navy's hangar and the Sao Tome Customs House are examples of the wide-ranging projects funded by CN. Other initiatives include counter-drug training; seminars; equipment for detection interception and monitoring activities; the establishment of C4 (command, control, communications and computers) networks for improved integration of law enforcement and military; as well as establishment and operation of bases of operations or training facilities, which can include minor construction.
G.W. Burnside, CN's West/Central Africa and Gulf of Guinea regional officer, said that because of funding constraints, partners have expressed interest in conducting programs as efficiently as possible, using a whole of government concept and "establishing linkages between all the players," whether it is airport security, customs enforcement, immigration and police.
Dave Burgess, a CN strategy and plans officer, said that AFRICOM works with individual nations on structures and processes to encourage interagency interaction but also encourages regional cooperation and communication among neighboring countries.
"We help create networks," Burgess said. "We facilitate and build cooperation within a specific country and across borders. Drug trafficking is a global problem and all countries have a responsibility to contribute."
In the 2011 World Drug Report issued by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) the executive director Yury Fedotov wrote in the preface that, "Drug trafficking, the critical link between supply and demand, is fuelling a global criminal enterprise valued in the hundreds of billions of dollars that poses a growing challenge to stability and security."
Fedotov also wrote that, "It is increasingly clear that drug control must become an essential element of our joint efforts to achieve peace, security and development."
Drugs are transported by air, sea, and land, and drug traffickers are creative and very adaptable, always finding new ways to transport drugs, explained Burgess.
"Drug trafficking is a destabilizing factor that must be addressed," Burnside added. "The corruption and violence associated with the drug trade can rapidly undermine progress. We always need to improve our capabilities to combat drug traffickers because they will continue to develop new ways to do business."
The U.S. Embassy in Libreville, Gabon, is the United States representative to both Gabon and the island nation Sao Tome and Principe. The majority of bi-lateral assistance between the United States and these two countries is military engagement and partnership.