July 18, 2008 / 4:51 AM / 11 years ago

Relief group criticizes new U.S. Africa command

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The new U.S. military command for Africa is unlikely to foster the security required to bring badly needed development to the impoverished continent, according to a study released on Thursday.

A child eats on the ground at the camp for displaced people at Nakuru's Show ground, in the Rift Valley area, January 22, 2008. REUTERS/Peter Andrews

A report by the Washington-based relief agency Refugees International said U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, lacks the funding necessary to address the continent’s need for competent policing and criminal justice operations.

“AFRICOM’s current meager budget for bilateral security cooperation falls far short of what is needed to have true credibility and impact,” the 48-page report said.

But Africa Command spokesman Vince Crawley said the command would play only a supportive role in helping countries upgrade police and other law enforcement agencies, and that most of the effort would be funded and led by the State Department.

“People are right to be apprehensive, but we do believe there’s been a lot of misunderstanding about what we’re trying to accomplish,” Crawley said.

The agency’s report was the latest criticism of the new regional command the Defense Department created last year to take over operations in Africa that had been divided between three existing commands. It formally assumes its responsibilities on October 1.

AFRICOM is unique among U.S. combatant commands because its includes State Department and USAID officials and its strategy for containing Islamist militancy involves humanitarian and development activities, such as the development of law enforcement and civil institutions, defense officials said.

One of two deputy commanders is a State Department official.

“MILITARIZATION” CONCERNS

But critics, including aid agency representatives and members of Congress, have said AFRICOM is poorly funded and worry that it could overshadow the State Department on a continent heavily dependent on western foreign aid.

“There is broad agreement that combating today’s global threats requires a balanced, integrated approach with coordinated defense, diplomacy and development efforts. In practice, the Pentagon is largely dictating America’s approach to foreign policy,” the Refugees International report said.

Defense Secretary Robert Gates this week acknowledged concerns among aid agencies about “a creeping militarization of some aspects of American foreign policy.”

“The foreign service is not the foreign legion, and the U.S. military should never be mistaken for a Peace Corps with guns,” Gates said on Tuesday, telling the U.S. Global Leadership Campaign that more funding was needed to help the State Department and USAID keep pace with his department.

The task of helping countries develop police, courts, prosecutors and prisons is mainly the responsibility of the State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development.

But Refugees International said AFRICOM’s involvement in those areas and other development activities raised the danger that inadequate U.S. aid for civilian security in Africa would be skewed by U.S. military priorities in the global war on terrorism.

“Security-related programs in Africa currently receive only about $250 million a year. This level of funding is woefully inadequate. While security is a prerequisite for development, U.S. security assistance to Africa remains ineffective,” the report said.

Refugees International also called on the Pentagon to use the creation of AFRICOM to increase U.S. support for U.N. and African Union peacekeeping operations in places such as Sudan’s Darfur region.

Reporting by David Morgan; Editing by Eric Walsh

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