View photos from the event.
A senior diplomat with the U.S. military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) told a gathering of African government officials on Feb. 8, 2012, that the United States is paying close attention to the continent and focusing on building mutually beneficial relationships.
AFRICOM’s Ambassador J. Anthony Holmes, Deputy to the Commander for Civil-Military Activities, spoke with 15 African defense attachés and embassy personnel with security portfolios during the Africa Center for Security Studies’ annual African Defense Attaché Seminar. The event runs through Feb. 10 at the National Defense University in Washington, D.C. Over lunch, the group discussed AFRICOM’s role in building bridges between the United States and once skeptical African countries.
“We believe that what is in your best interest is also in our best interest,” said Holmes, who directs plans and programs associated with health, humanitarian assistance and de-mining action, disaster response, security sector reform, and peace support operations¸ among others. “We can maximize our own interests by helping you.”
Holmes said American concerns about Africa’s vulnerable security environment grew after two terrorist attacks targeted U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998. But U.S. officials understood that unilateral and traditional security approaches would not fix Africa’s security problems, and effective solutions would require multilateral coordination and holistic approaches rather than purely military ones.
“Fundamentally, we knew that only Africans could provide security in Africa, and we realized that AFRICOM couldn’t be a traditional military command,” he said. “We recognized that we needed to help African governments provide for their own security.”
The resulting command, which went into operation officially in 2008, features a unique model that integrates the military, diplomats at the U.S. State Department, and experts from the U.S. Agency for International Development, along with other civilian government agencies.
Since its founding, AFRICOM has focused on solving maritime security issues, training peacekeeping forces, and providing disaster assistance and humanitarian relief. The effort is designed to bolster African countries’ capacity to provide their own security. Holmes said the strategy has resulted in good military-to-military relations between the United States and every African country.
“We are winning over political stalwarts in Africa. We believe most African concerns have been assuaged; all African military concerns have already been assuaged,” he said. “For only starting officially in 2008, we are well on our way.”