In 2007, I wrote the first definitive piece for Esquire on the kernel code for Africom: namely, the Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa. Back then, I described it as essentially a non-kinetic force, or no “trigger pullers.” But the piece led off with a quick summary of a special ops event that occurred in conjunction with Ethiopia’s military intervention in Somalia. So when the deputy commander of CJTF-HOA said that the command had “never fired a shot in anger,” he was being truthful in a bureaucratic sense. Back then, HOA didn’t kill bad guys on the Horn, SOCCENT [Special Operations Command, Central Command] killed bad guys on the Horn.
When the piece was published, it met up with a bit of an uproar, especially my prediction that – down the road – the US would be sprinkling more such small bases throughout Africa as the one I visited on the coast of Kenya. That mini-base (boots in the few dozen) almost exclusively worked the soft-power stuff, until the call came down and it became a short-term launching pad for SOF operations in southern Kenya (my lead in the piece).
Well, WAPO comes out today with a piece saying that’s exactly what’s happening, with a big focus on drone operations.
What’s sad here: AFRICOM was supposed to be different – the whole “3D” approach of diplomacy, development and defense, and in first few years it was. Now, word from everyone familiar with the command is this: AFRICOM’s focus is all kinetics and kills, with the soft stuff going by the wayside. Obama has become addicted to drone strikes like Clinton was with cruise missiles.
All hard and no soft makes AFRICOM a nasty boy.