Prevent War – With "Africa"?
By Cassidy Regan on 05/15/2012 @ 03:00 PM
The House's draft military authorization bill is full of concerning language. What most alarms me, though, isn't a section on military operations in any one country – instead, it's a report that seems to endorse increased activity on the entire African continent.
When “marking up” the text of a bill – such as the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) – a committee will include a report, which offers further detail on their thoughts around the legislation. Though this may not always translate into concrete language in the text of the bill itself, it can inform how appropriated funding is later used (including to support covert or classified activity). This year’s report language from the House Armed Services Committee (HASC) contained the following excerpt:
Specifically, the committee believes that activities that utilize U.S. Special Operations Forces and an ‘indirect approach’ that leverages local and indigenous forces should be used more aggressively and surgically in Africa and the Arabian Peninsula...The committee believes that current indirect activities are not fully resourced and underutilized to counter gains and preclude the expansion of Al Qaeda affiliates in these regions.”
While FCNL feels that counterterrorism and military initiatives have already begun to overshadow other aspects of U.S. policy, this excerpt instead claims that the U.S. hasn't done enough – and that more "aggressive" use of special operations is needed. Though I haven't been able to find any traces of this in HASC’s final version of the NDAA, I’m deeply concerned as to what impact this kind of language and sentiment could have in the long-term. In addition to being hugely vague in its scope – referring to activities in Africa as a whole as well as in the Arabian Peninsula – the statement troubles us for a number of reasons:
- Current military and counterterrorism initiatives in and assistance to many countries in Africa – and, in particular, those in East Africa – lack transparency and congressional oversight. Though sources at the National Defense University have, for example, estimated related assistance to Kenya at as high as $300 million per year, it’s difficult to find more than around $35 million publicly documented. While some experts attribute this to classified activities, others suggest that the Department of Defense has neglected to track it (both because it isn’t required to do so and because it hasn’t established the necessary mechanisms). This language could serve as blanket support for further assistance and activities conducted with little to no accountability – and therefore little to no understanding of their impact on related conflicts and communities.
- Given the complex nature of conflict dynamics in East Africa and elsewhere, we fear that these “special operations” conducted with minimal evaluation and congressional oversight could serve to do more harm than good. “Aggressive” and direct operations have a history of resulting in further radicalization, rising tension and increased threat to civilian safety in the communities and countries in which they take place. Moreover, in many cases, military and counterterrorism forces that receive U.S. assistance and are involved in related operations have been connected to human rights abuses and illegal means that go with impunity both from their own governments and from the U.S.
- This approach reflects an increasing focus on counterterrorism and military operations when it comes to U.S. policy – rather than support for the peace and social justice that could best serve to counter violent extremism in the long-term. When it comes to Kenya, for example, many point to marginalization and inequity as major sources of discontent. With these and other concerns considered, there is dire need for locally-led violence prevention and peacebuilding efforts in anticipation of the next national elections in March of 2013. While this year’s State and Foreign Operations budget request included only a few references to support for peace and reconciliation, it frequently mentioned Kenya with regard to various counterterrorism and military accounts. It is essential to ensure that U.S. defense operations do not overshadow – or undermine – the important efforts being undertaken by civilian agencies to help support Kenyan groups working toward economic equity, ethnic equality and long-term peace.
Take action! Stay tuned for more as the NDAA process continues, and follow this link in the meantime to advocate for increased investment in the tools of peaceful prevention (rather than those of military might) when it comes to U.S. policy toward Kenya and East Africa.