As the Defense Department was embracing a counterinsurgency strategy that recognized the need for "whole-of-government" solutions in Iraq and then Afghanistan, U.S. Africa Command was busy putting the model into practice on the African continent.
AFRICOM stood up five years ago as a new model of interagency cooperation: a U.S. combatant command representing a cross-section of military, diplomatic and other U.S. government capability able to bring all elements of national power to regional challenges.
And although budget realities kept AFRICOM from fully achieving the initial vision of a half military, half interagency organization, officials at the command's headquarters in Stuttgart, Germany say it's still become a gold standard in collaboration. Its staff includes four Senior Foreign Service officers in key positions, as well as more than 30 representatives from throughout the federal government.
The goal at AFRICOM is to work in tandem with other U.S. government agencies and international partners to help African nations deal with African challenges, Army General Carter F. Ham, the AFRICOM commander, told American Forces Press Service.
Toward that goal, the command supports military-to-military programs and military-sponsored operations aimed at promoting a stable, secure Africa, the general said. But equally important, he emphasized, is AFRICOM's work using non-DOD authorities and resources and carried out by the interagency.
To keep a clear-eyed focus on this effort, Ham relies heavily on two deputy commanders: one responsible for military operations and the other for civil-military activities. This composition reflects an understanding that while defense is vital to the African continent, it's just one part of the so-called "three-D" formula that also embodies diplomacy and development, Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, AFRICOM's civilian deputy commander, told American Forces Press Service.
"It represents a recognition of the reality that what we do to protect U.S. security interests in Africa is part of a much broader 'whole-of-government approach' to representing all our interests on the continent," he said. It also acknowledges, he added, that traditional U.S. military solutions aren't always the best answer to Africa's security challenges.
"Security challenges in Africa are inextricably bound up with the development challenges in Africa," Holmes said. "They are inherently related to the challenges of development or underdevelopment and economic, political and social development."
Short-term solutions can't resolve these challenges, he emphasized. "You have to be very patient. You have to address them in a long-term manner."
This creates a tension between immediate, sometimes kinetic responses to security challenges that the military typically delivers and "soft-power" solutions that take a longer-term view toward resolving the underlying political, economic and social development causes, the ambassador noted.
"So it is a question of achieving a balanced approach that takes our security imperatives in the short term, but recognizing that our short-term approaches should not undermine our longer-term interests," he said.
"I think it is widely recognized, particularly in Africa, that the military brings certain skill sets to addressing the challenges we face," agreed Army Major General Charles J. Hooper, AFRICOM's director of strategy, plans and programs. "But we can't possibly address the comprehensive spectrum of challenges," particularly those stemming from economic problems, social instability or educational shortfalls.
Hooper noted the activities by AFRICOM's interagency partners and nongovernmental organizations that are helping to address some of the root causes of instability on the continent.
"So the NGOs address some of those nonsecurity-related, social-related issues. Our interagency partners address some of the educational [and] economic root causes. And we [in the military] address security," he said. "That triumvirate … works together in concert to present a broad-spectrum solution to address the challenges that we face here."
To support that effort, Holmes focuses on creating relationships, building partners in the region and identifying common interests and common ground for cooperation.
The goal, he said, is to work together to develop a capacity in so African nations can create the institutions and achieve security themselves. As a result, individual nations, the region, the continent, and ultimately, the United States, will benefit from improved security there, he said.
Ham acknowledged that budgetary constraints have kept non-DOD agencies from providing the representation initially envisioned for the AFRICOM headquarters staff. Instead, a smaller contingency of senior-level members from the departments of State, Agriculture, Energy, Commerce, Justice and Homeland Security, the Coast Guard, the U.S. Agency for International Development and the intelligence community support the mission here, all with reach-back to additional resources and expertise in the United States.
"All of that is intended to make sure that we don't take an exclusively military view to the problems and the challenges we encounter," Ham said. "Instead, our actions [and] our plans are informed more broadly by those who have different experiences, different perspectives and different capabilities than most of us who grow up in the U.S. military."
"You are bringing in talented leaders who don't think the same way you do," agreed Army Brigadier General Arnold Gordon-Bray, AFRICOM's director of operations. "So when a plan is finished, it normally incorporates angles you may not have considered. And sometimes those angles are exactly the angles that the threat [you are countering] may have chosen to use."
Hooper called the opportunity to work as part of an integrated, interagency team at AFRICOM one of the best rewards of the job here. "This is what is new and what is different about U.S. Africa Command," he said. "And it is quite exciting."