A Prayer for Marie:
Creating an Effective
African Standby Force



From Parameters, Winter 2004-05, pp. 102-17.

On 16 April 1994 in Cyahinda, Rwanda, 3,500 unarmed Tutsi men, women, and children packed into a small Catholic church, and 4,000 more crowded into surrounding church buildings, to escape from the Rwandan army and its death squads. Discovering their whereabouts, the death squads came with guns, machetes, and clubs, surrounded the parish buildings, and attacked the helpless families within. In a methodical and almost leisurely manner, they systematically murdered one day’s quota, only to return the following three days to complete the killing. At the end of four days, 5,500 unarmed men, women, and children lay dead. Among them was Marie, a six-year-old girl who had been tortured and raped. She had bled to death after having her legs cut through above the knees with a machete.1

There were nearly 100,000 “Maries” in 1994 Rwanda—children who faced an unimaginable death. This horror was repeated time and time again over the course of 13 weeks, when approximately 800,000 people were massacred in Rwanda’s genocide. By August 1994, three million Rwandans had been internally displaced, and more than two million had fled to neighboring countries—out of a total pre-war population of approximately seven million. Women and children suffered most from the aftermath of the genocide, with an estimated 47,000 children orphaned, and up to 500,000 women raped.2 Unimaginably, this occurred as the international community watched with a fixed, if not disinterested eye. After the Rwanda genocide, the United Nations released a report which concluded that a small outside force—perhaps as few as 5,000 soldiers—could have intervened and stopped the slaughter in its early stages. The failure of the United States and the international community to act is one of the most shocking instances of indifference in history.


While the Rwanda tragedy is unparalleled with regard to the killers’ speed and “efficiency,” there is nothing new about violence on the African continent. In fact, no region of the world has seen a greater number of foreign or US military interventions in the past decade than Sub-Saharan Africa. Since 1991, US forces have conducted 31 contingency operations in Sub-Saharan Africa alone.3 In terms of almost every meaningful measurement—the number of countries with internal disputes, the number of UN peacekeeping missions, the number of civilian casualties, the number of displaced civilians, or the monetary cost to the international community—Africa has been the most likely location for the requirement for armed humanitarian intervention over the past ten years.4

Why Africa Matters to the United States

The current US National Security Strategy (NSS) addresses the African paradox. The strategy describes Africa as a land of “promise and opportunity,” but also as a land beset with “disease, war, and desperate poverty.” The NSS goes on to say that the current situation in Africa poses a threat to a core value of the United States—preserving human dignity—and to a strategic priority—combating global terror. As a result, the National Security Strategy makes a bold commitment: The United States “will work with others for an African continent that lives in liberty, peace, and growing prosperity.” That said, Africa remains at the bottom of any list of America’s vital interests. Does the evidence justify this low priority?

Africa matters far more today to US interests than it did before 11 September 2001, and America’s gaze needs to include this vast continent in its present national security landscape. As the campaign against global terrorism unfolds, we find Sub-Saharan Africa clearly among the terrorists’ playing fields. Just as the failed state of Afghanistan spawned terrorist camps in the 1990s, so has Africa’s plight led to increased terrorist activity. Consider:

Dr. Jakkie Cilliers writes in African Security Review that 2,800 Algerians were trained in Afghanistan, “making Algeria the third biggest contributor of foot soldiers to international terrorism after Saudi Arabia and Yemen.”5


Al Qaeda elements and sympathizers have been “active throughout much of Africa with known cells in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, South Africa, Cote D’Ivoire, [and] Mauritania”6 and continue to grow in countries such as Kenya, Tanzania, and the Sahel region.7 Porous borders additionally exist in Sudan, Somalia, northern Nigeria, and South Africa, which must be addressed with a comprehensive and integrated US military strategy.8

The 1998 bombings of the American embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam killed more than 200 people and injured some 4,000. The bombings brought Osama bin Laden and al Qaeda into public awareness, and prompted US cruise missile strikes on terrorist targets in Sudan and Afghanistan.

In addition to current terrorist activity, Africa is a hotbed for recruitment of tomorrow’s terrorist. While radical militant Islam has so far had little resonance with the nearly 250 million African Muslims, there are some strands of traction. Most of Africa’s Muslims, like their non-Muslim African brethren, are impoverished and live in acute—and worsening—marginality that invites inter-ethnic strife, despair, and resentment of the West. During the past decade, frustrated Muslims living under corrupt, malfunctioning governments have looked increasingly to Islamic agencies funded by Saudi and other Persian Gulf donors to provide education, health, social welfare, and security.9 This phenomenon has often stabilized communities and enhanced the local legitimacy of Muslim social activism. At the same time, it has provided the means to mobilize anti-US and anti-Western sentiment and has created havens for militant actors who endeavor to act in solidarity with al Qaeda.

AIDS and National Security

The AIDS pandemic has a complex but important nexus to US national security. AIDS and warfare insatiably feed off each other—warfare is an amplifier of the disease, and the disease can create the conditions favorable for warfare.10 The disease hollows out military capabilities, as well as state capacities in general, weakening both to the point of failure and col-


lapse. For instance, estimates of HIV infection rates among African armies are as high as 50 percent in the Congo and Angola, 66 percent in Uganda, 75 percent in Malawi, and 80 percent in Zimbabwe.11 This hollowing-out of militaries, particularly at the leadership level, has a number of added implications for security. As human capacity is lost, combat readiness deteriorates. Ultimately, AIDS-weakened militaries pose the risk of domestic instability and may even invite foreign attack.

AIDS threatens not only the military, but the whole state. As the disease spreads and becomes even more pervasive, it attacks the nation’s fiber— individuals, families and communities, economic and political institutions, and police forces. The consequences can be shattering for already impoverished states. The World Bank considers AIDS to be the single biggest threat to economic development in Africa: the disease is expected to reduce GDP in many states by as much as 20 percent in the next decade.12 This weakening of state bodies at points of crisis has repeatedly been the spark for coups, revolts, and other political and ethnic struggles to secure control over scarce resources—the precursor for a humanitarian crisis. As the collapse of the Democratic Republic of Congo—largely due to the AIDS epidemic—illustrates, warlords and other violent actors can move in to fill the void left by a failing state.13 This becomes a direct threat to US national security when these failed states become havens for the new enemies of global order.

Economic Considerations

Africa potentially has important economic contributions to US security as it matures into an economic partner. The United States has economic investments throughout the region—by some measures, comparable to investments in the Middle East or Eastern Europe.14 Additionally, Africa is a large and growing source of non-Gulf oil: currently the central/west African basin accounts for 17 percent of US oil imports. According to the National Intelligence Council, the United States is likely to draw 25 percent of its oil from West Africa by 2015, surpassing the volume imported from the Persian Gulf.15 Plans call for an estimated $40 billion in new US private investment in the energy sector in Africa in the next few years, when production and imports in and from this region are expected to rise steadily.

Conversely, Africa’s present economic plight is disheartening. Sub-Saharan Africa remains the world’s poorest region, with a GDP per capita income of just $575 in 2002.16 Additionally, Africa’s autocratic governance and economic marginality pose a serious threat to US security interests. In the near to medium term, these vexing factors are expected to only worsen. In the midst of a global economic downturn aggravated by the aftermath of 9/11, the World Bank predicts the worst impact will be felt in Africa.17 Programs like the


Africa Growth and Opportunity Act, targeted specifically at the Sub-Saharan region, are critical to stem this potential crisis.

Clearly, the United States can no longer afford to marginalize Africa’s contribution—good and bad—to our national security posture. We need to make fundamental changes to the way we execute our military strategy toward Sub-Saharan Africa. Without these changes, key US national security interests will not be achieved and we will abdicate the responsibility to prevent another Rwanda to the same international community which stood by helplessly in 1994.

The African Union Proposal

Against the grim backdrop of the past decade, African leaders have come to the realization that the international community and the United Nations cannot be depended upon to stop the suffering of Africans. One clear and lasting lesson for the continent is that the cost of being dependent on others for intervention is unacceptably high. With this in mind, African Union (AU) leaders have called for the creation of the African Standby Force (ASF), a multinational armed force comprised solely of African soldiers capable of peacekeeping and peace enforcement operations—an African solution for African problems. The conceptual ASF provides for five sub-regional standby brigades (3,000 to 4,000 troops), which will provide the AU with a combined standby capacity of 15,000 to 20,000 peacekeepers.18

The ASF brigades are to be formed by the countries within the respective regions. Since these brigades are to reside in the regions that they serve and protect, the standby force, in theory, will be able to quickly organize, deploy, and intervene to stem early violence before it erupts into full-scale war. The development of the African Standby Force is to occur in two phases. Phase I extends to 30 June 2005, by which time the regions are to develop a standby brigade capacity, while the AU develops the capacity to manage monitoring missions, akin to UN observer missions. Phase II extends to 30 June 2010, by which time regions are to refine their standby brigade capabilities, while the AU develops the capacity to manage a complex peacekeeping operation.19 The AU acknowledges that some regions will take more time to develop a standby brigade, and the African Chiefs of Defense Staff (ACDS) recommends that, as a stopgap arrangement, designated lead nations form coalitions of the willing pending the establishment of the regional brigades.20

International Response

As the AU and African regions look to field the African Standby Force, the significant costs related to its establishment led African leaders to seek support from the international community at the June 2003 G8 Summit in Evian, France. Although an “African-boots” force is the preferred military


intervention solution—preferred by African leaders and the international community alike—the international response to this initiative has been lukewarm. Recognizing the gaps between current and desired capabilities, the G8 indicated they consider the proposal to be overly ambitious and expensive.21

The G8 response to the AU proposal was not surprising. The ASF initiative lacked detail, such as the member countries per region, the countries acting as lead nations, and a program of objectives and milestones for the development of the force. Most significantly, the ASF initiative—specifically the development of five regional brigades capable of rapid deployment and humanitarian intervention—is an incredible reach given regional capacities as they exist today.22

While many African militaries are rich in peacekeeping experience and leadership talent, their inability to organize and deploy rapidly reflects the relative poverty of their states. Individual country budgets rarely are sufficient to provide adequate living standards for military personnel, to acquire and maintain equipment, or to undergo realistic, large-unit training. Outside of South Africa and perhaps Nigeria or Ghana, few African states are capable of mobilization, regional power projection, or sustained, intense military operations.23 Moreover, regional military success stories are few and far between. For example, the Economic Community of West African States Monitoring Observer Group (ECOMOG), largely considered to be the most capable regional peacekeeping force, has demonstrated mixed results at best in its peace enforcement capacity. During its UN missions in Liberia and Sierra Leone, it failed to maintain neutrality toward the Liberian factions, had 500 peacekeepers captured by rebel forces, and was seen by other African nations as simply a cover for the spread of Nigerian influence.24

So is the ASF initiative dead in the water? Not completely. While the G8 did not offer the AU a blank check, neither did its members categorically dismiss the ASF initiative. One senses that if an alternate proposal were presented—a proposal that satisfies the operational requirement, is within Africa’s reach, and is fiscally prudent—the G8 would be much more receptive. In developing such an alternative, certain fundamental questions should


be addressed—what capabilities does an ASF need; how should it be organized, trained, and equipped; and what role should the United States play in bringing it to fruition? These are all legitimate questions which need to be considered before one can expect international and US buy-in.

Capabilities Required: Speed and Teeth

With the hindsight of historical African conflict, any credible ASF alternative should contain two distinct capabilities—the ability to organize and deploy rapidly and the ability to conduct Chapter VII operations.25 The need for speed is self-evident. An effective African Standby Force must be able to arrive within days of being needed, not months. While the conflicts in Sierra Leone, Liberia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) each offer testimony to this distinction, Rwanda is certainly the most gruesome example. In the days that followed the 6 April 1994 airplane crash killing Rwandan President Juvenal Habyarimana—the event which triggered the genocide—the violence widened until the entire country was engulfed in a killing spree. In the course of 100 days, approximately 800,000 Rwandans were killed—a pace of 8,000 killings per day. As Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and DRC bear witness, most civilian casualties occur during the early months of conflict.26 Thus, creating an ASF for speed—speed of organizing, deploying, and operating—is essential to success.

The second capability for an effective ASF is that it must be constituted of warfighters. Far too often, intervening forces are deployed to a Chapter VII environment with Chapter VI authority—and the results are inevitable— soldiers legally helpless to counter the bloody and humiliating events of Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Goradze. A Chapter VII-capable force is documented in the Brahimi Commission’s report on United Nations Peace Operations: “UN peacekeepers must be able to carry out their mandate professionally and successfully. Rules of engagement should be sufficiently robust and not force UN contingents to cede the initiative to their attackers. This means that mandates should specify an operation’s authority to use force.”27

A Workable Alternative—The Tier One Brigade

Using “speed and teeth” as the core competencies, an African Standby Force could be created to achieve the economies that the G8 desires and meet the sense of urgency that the African security environment demands. This proposal—the Tier One Brigade28—calls for creating a single standby brigade, not five, designed for rapid response and Chapter VII capability throughout the continent.

One rapid-response standby brigade capable of Chapter VII peace operations would be a preferable alternative to the AU proposal for several rea-



Battalions are drawn from “lead nations.” Brigade leadership is designated by the AU.

& Control:

Permanent standing headquarters develop contingency plans and conduct pre-crisis planning.


Brigade is trained together by the international community using common training and doctrine. Capabilities examined during the final evaluation are drawn from Joint Tactics, Techniques, and Procedures for Peace Operations, Joint Pub 3-07.3, and NATO’s AJP-3.4.1, Peace Support Operations. Sustainment training is completed through international peacekeeping exercises.


Brigade operates common equipment sourced through the international community. Prepositioned supplies and equipment are maintained at a central logistics facility. Brigade logistics site location is based on access to port facility, commercial airfield, centralized logistics facility, and roadway and telecommunications network maturity.

Figure 1. Notional Tier One Brigade.

sons. First, a brigade-sized force is recommended throughout research conducted on the nature of African conflict. Based on historical regional conflict, UN military planners assessed that a brigade is the right-sized force to intervene effectively in most humanitarian crises that have occurred on the continent.29 Second, a brigade-sized force can be assembled from existing battalions among African militaries. Third, this standby force could be created with much less capital than is currently expended on individual countries’ disparate initiatives. And foremost, this force could be operational within one year of the commencement of training—not the five years which the AU plan proposes. The basic concept for the Tier One Brigade is shown in Figure 1.


While organizing the Tier One Brigade from any single African country would be a daunting challenge, developing it from the composite African community is within reach. While most African countries have limited military capabilities, and few have the capacity to undertake or contribute to a robust peacekeeping or enforcement operation, there are “anchor” countries that can provide the foundation for potential regional capabilities. The Western Region, anchored by the capable Nigerian and Ghana armed forces, has already exhibited the capacity to assemble and deploy effective intervening forces throughout Africa. In the Southern Region, South Africa has significantly increased its peacekeeping presence over the past two years, jumping to the tenth overall largest UN peacekeeping nation.30 South Africa’s entry


into the peacekeeping world is significant in that it adds both a considerable amount of resources to the AU and Southern Africa Development Community, and a military force experienced in large-unit operations. And in the Horn of Africa (HOA) region, Ethiopia is considered a “new strategic partner” with the most capable military in that region.31

While the African Union will ultimately identify the sourcing countries, the international community should request that the battalions come from “lead nations”—a step the AU included in its initial African Standby Force proposal. US policy in Sub-Saharan Africa under the Bush Administration has been built around developing the capabilities of Nigeria, South Africa, Ethiopia, and Kenya—the United States’ choice for lead nations.32 These countries possess capable militaries and enjoy significant influence throughout their regions. Although the international community has not collectively identified Sub-Saharan lead nations, G8 engagement with these same African nations suggests consensus. Moreover, earmarking a battalion for the Tier One Brigade from a lead nation creates less of a void than would otherwise be created if the battalion were taken from a country with a smaller military.

Command and Control

As the backbone for the Tier One Brigade’s continuity and planning, a permanent standing headquarters should be fielded. In practical terms, this headquarters would conduct pre-crisis planning for the focus areas directed by the African Chiefs of Defense Staff. There are two models available for a permanent standing headquarters. In the US military, the “standing joint force headquarters” (SJFHQ) concept has been formalized by after-action reports from nearly every joint operation that the services have participated in over the past ten years.33 Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld recently directed the formation of Standing Joint Force Headquarters for all the regional Combatant Commands by fiscal year 2005. Approaching operational capability, the US SJFHQ model contains a 58-member team specializing in operational planning and information command and control.

Besides the US SJFHQ, the African Union can also examine the UN’s Standby Force High Readiness Brigade (SHIRBRIG), which maintains an 11-member permanent “planning element.” Since the US model contains leading-edge command and control technology and systems that are unlikely to be releasable to the international community, the UN SHIRBRIG is a more applicable model for the standing headquarters. By tapping into the research and development associated with the US SJFHQ, and the operational lessons learned from the UN SHIRBRIG planning element, the African Union has an opportunity to create an extremely capable standing headquarters tailored specifically for its needs.


Training and Readiness

Just as the AU can develop a standing headquarters from existing models, so too can it develop a training plan from an existing capability— Operation Focus Relief (OFR).

Following the rescue of 500 captured UN peacekeepers in Sierra Leone, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) offered the UN 3,000 troops for peace operations. Concerned that these troops would be as ill-prepared as those who had been captured, and in an effort to save the UN another embarrassment, the United States undertook Operation Focus Relief, a State Department initiative to train and equip these troops for peace enforcement operations. OFR was developed as a training package specifically tailored for the battalions preparing for Chapter VII peace operations in Sierra Leone. In mid-October 2000, US Special Forces commenced peace operations training with two Nigerian infantry battalions. Battalion-level training occurred over a ten-week period, beginning with small-unit tactics and culminating in a battalion-level capstone exercise. As part of the OFR initiative, the United States included a common equipment package that enabled the battalions to “shoot, move, and communicate.” Specifically, the West African battalions received a US light infantry battalion’s equivalent of individual and crew-served weapons, mortars, trucks, and radios. From start to finish, Operation Focus Relief lasted 16 months, trained and equipped seven battalions, and cost approximately $87.3 million.34

The OFR model is applicable for training the Tier One Brigade, with slight variations. The OFR training package was specifically created for those West African battalions preparing for immediate deployment to Sierra Leone for UN peace operations. Developing an OFR-type training plan for a standby brigade with a continental field of regard would require a more generic approach. Moreover, since the Tier One Brigade is by definition a standby force, special emphasis would have to be given to arrival and assembly operations. Drawing from US Army, Marine Corps, and British peacekeeping doctrine, as well as lessons learned from African peacekeeping missions, the tasks listed in Figure 2, on the following page, are recommended to be included in Tier One Brigade training.35

While the OFR initiative trained seven battalions in 18 months, the first four battalions completed training in only eight months. Assuming the AU selected battalions from lead nations whose militaries are at least as capable as those that underwent OFR training, the battalions comprising the Tier One Brigade could complete training in one year. The additional four months would be needed to achieve proficiency in the tasks listed in Figure 2, as well as to conduct a final evaluation exercise. A capstone exercise should be included as part of the training syllabus to evaluate the brigade’s capability to rapidly deploy,


stabilize a deteriorating situation, and protect the civilian populace in the shortest possible time. To provide an accurate assessment of the brigade’s personnel and operational readiness, this evaluation should include a scenario that provides for actual deployment to a nation capable of hosting the evaluation. One location that satisfies this requirement is Djibouti, currently hosting Combined Joint Task Force HOA forces.36 Using a location similar to Djibouti would hold down costs, since no additional ranges or infrastructures would be necessary to support the exercise. Moreover, if the capstone exercise is conducted at Camp Lemonier, Djibouti, resident US joint forces could serve as role actors, improving the quality and reality of the evaluation.

Upon completion of its initial training, the Tier One Brigade should continue periodic sustainment training. The requirement for sustainment training is a lesson learned from Operation Focus Relief. While the OFR concept was successfully demonstrated, the effort was not sustained and those battalions’ capabilities have since atrophied significantly. To ensure the Tier One Brigade’s readiness does not degrade, periodic training must occur. There are several possibilities from which to choose for sustainment training. For example, the US Marine Corps and Navy participate in annual training exercises with Kenyan troops in Kenya—one of the United States’ lead nations. If a Kenyan battalion were part of the Tier One Brigade, it could receive proficiency training as part of a combined US-Kenyan exercise—an option which bears relatively little additional expense.

Recommended Tier One Brigade Training for Peace Operations

Arrival and assembly procedures Embarkation training
Enforce UN sanctions Protect human rights
Protect humanitarian relief efforts Separate warring factions
Disarm belligerents Restore territorial integrity
Restore law and order Supervise a truce or cease-fire
Identify mines and unexploded ordnance Contribute to maintenance of law and order 
Monitor borders and boundaries Understand rules of engagement
Roles of NGOs and PVOs Employing non-lethal technology
Media interaction Detainee handling
Anti-terrorism and force protection measures  Physical security

Figure 2. Recommended Tier One Training.


To extend this option beyond Kenya, the international community needs to expand its military-to-military engagement plan with Sub-Saharan Africa. Currently US European Command, responsible for military engagement with most Sub-Sahara African countries, participates in four annual training exercises in the region. Conversely, the command participates in over 100 exercises on the European continent.37 As a component of the Tier One Brigade program, additional combined training exercises involving the militaries of the United States, the G8 countries, and Sub-Saharan Africa are required.

A second possibility for recurring training is for the international community to deploy a team of trainers to the countries sourcing the individual Tier One battalions. During the OFR initiative, the United States used Special Forces as trainers for the battalions. While Army Special Forces were precisely the right units to provide initial OFR training, sustainment training can draw support from alternate resources. For example, the Army National Guard currently participates in programs through which state Guard units develop partnerships with the military of a state from the former Soviet Union. A similar program could be applied to sustainment training for the Tier One battalions. Regardless of which option is chosen, sustainment training is necessary to ensure the continuous effectiveness of the Tier One Brigade.


Any international initiative for an African Standby Force must include a standardized equipment package. European colonialism and the Cold War were driving forces in equipping the modern-day African militaries. If the AU were presently to integrate four battalions from separate African countries, the likely result would be a composite brigade with a hodgepodge of nonstandard, non-interchangeable, and potentially incompatible military equipment. A standardized equipment block is necessary to ensure battalions deploy with operable equipment and to reduce the costs and complexities of their logistical requirements. Moreover, this equipment block should be built around the core competencies of the Tier One Brigade—speed and teeth. As such, the Tier One Brigade should be equipped in the same manner as the Operation Focus Relief battalions—with light and medium trucks, personal and crew-served weapons, mortars, and radio sets.

In addition to the standardized equipment block, a common supply sustainment block should be included for the Tier One Brigade. In the US military, an expeditionary brigade deploys with 30 days of accompanying supplies. While a 30-day internal supply provides the optimum balance of sustainment to embarkation footprint, it runs the risk of not satisfying reality—on average, it has taken between three and six months from the time the UN Security Council decides to establish a peacekeeping force until the


peacekeepers are deployed.38 Nevertheless, because rapid deployment is an overarching principle for the Tier One Brigade, the African Union should accept the risk associated with a 30-day internal sustainment capability. To mitigate this risk, alternative methods to augment the Tier One Brigade’s organic sustainability should be developed. Examples of alternative methods include international community support agreements, host-nation support agreements, and regional prepositioned equipment and supplies.

Once the standardized equipment block and sustainment supplies are sourced, the location of the central logistics facility, the Brigade Logistics Site, should be determined. The most significant criterion for rapid deployment is the maturity of the site’s lines of communications, namely the condition of area ports, airfields, road networks, and telecommunications. While the composite sum of these criteria may seem hard to fill, there are eligible locations. For example, the United States has a long-held formal agreement with Kenya for the use of local military facilities. The port of Mombassa, and airfields at Embakasi and Nanyuki, supported US intervention in Somalia in 1992-1994 and have been used recently to support forces involved in Combined Joint Task Force HOA. Other potential sites that should be considered include Cape Town, South Africa, the ports of Luanda and Lobito in Angola, the port of Dakar in Senegal, and Dar es Salaam in Tanzania.

Synchronizing the International Community
and American Leadership

The African Standby Force initiative is a unique opportunity for the international community to engage the African Union and achieve a consensus solution to a vexing problem. Conversely, once this capability is achieved, it is not an excuse for its disengagement from Africa. Even with the successful training and fielding of an African Standby Force, any long-term success will ultimately succumb to international disengagement. Many requirements will remain for the international community—requirements that African countries do not have the capacity to meet. For example, strate-


gic airlift, early warning, limited technical and logistical capacities, and AU command and control are all gaps that the African Union has identified as requiring international assistance.39

The United States should not feel compelled to fill every void, nor take on this daunting initiative alone—but it is one in which we should actively participate. For much of the 20th century, the international community, as well as the American people, came to expect US moral leadership in humanitarian work as a reflection of our national character and status as a great power. Participating in the development of the ASF perpetuates that expectation. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for the United States to achieve an intriguing result—expending a relatively miniscule amount of American hard power for a potentially significant gain in American soft power.

When US policymakers begin to examine our leadership role, they should not fall victim to American hubris. Currently, many members of the international community, inside and outside Africa, are already extensively engaged in helping African states expand their capacity for peacekeeping. For example, the French trained peacekeepers under their RECAMP program; the British have long been involved in training African peacekeepers; the Netherlands has provided peacekeeping training to ECOWAS; and Belgium participated with the United States in the African Crisis Response Initiative. Although not specifically involved in peacekeeping initiatives, China has become very active on the continent and recently developed the China-Africa Cooperation Forum, a program designed “to conform to the changing international situation.”40 Undoubtedly, each of these countries’ programs has unique strengths. However, if individual countries continue with separate and nonintegrated proposals, the result will be redundant programs, nonstandard equipment and training, and lost efficiencies. Current ad hoc arrangements are insufficient to guarantee credibility, speed, and effectiveness. What is lacking is the venue to integrate these disparate activities under a single umbrella. Offering the African Union the civil and military expertise to assist in creating an African Standby Force that captures the “best and brightest” international programs under a single, synergistic initiative is an example of the leadership role the United States should take.

As the planning, development, and fielding of the African Standby Force occurs, the United States should lead with grace and humility. Achieving the delicate balance of being, most likely, the largest single contributor to the African Standby Force, and doing so in a humble manner will be a challenging test. However, the ongoing dialogue between the African Union and the United States is an encouraging sign that we can strike the necessary balance. Ultimately, the initiative cannot be developed in a vacuum, and the dialogue needs to include all participating international peacekeeping and financing nations.


A Prayer for Marie

When one thinks of humanitarian intervention in Africa, one likely thinks of Somalia—not 1991 Somalia when US military intervention opened up food supply lines and was widely supported publicly, but the Somalia of 3 October 1993 and the dramatic media depiction of an American soldier being dragged through the streets of Mogadishu. Unfortunately, the early success in addressing humanitarian needs has been replaced by the “Black Hawk Down prism”—the lens through which all subsequent crises on the continent have been viewed. When the next crisis came the following year in Rwanda, that lens predictably clouded our policy decisions. It’s time to craft a new lens.

We need a lens that reflects a view of Africa very much unlike the view most see today. The image would not be of impotent African militaries paralyzed by a lack of funding, training, and logistics—incapable of effective intervention in a humanitarian crisis. Rather, we need to look into the future and see the international community bringing together a professional corps of African soldiers ready to respond rapidly to an African crisis. Properly trained and fully resourced, the African Standby Force should be well positioned to prevent future “Rwandas” and “Somalias.” It’s the prayer we can offer for Marie.


1. Human Rights Watch, Leave None to Tell the Story: Genocide in Rwanda, Human Rights Watch Report, March 1999, http://www.hrw.org/reports/1999/rwanda/.

2. United Nations, Special Investigation in International Peacekeeping (New York: United Nations, March-April 1996), p. 7.

3. US State Department, “United States Administration and Defense Policy for Sub-Saharan Africa,” briefing, Washington, D.C., 2003.

4. United Nations, Peacekeeping and Regional Organizations Report (New York: United Nations, 21 January 2004).

5. Jakkie Cilliers, “Terrorism and Africa,” African Security Review, 12 (No. 4, 2003), 96, citing figures from Jane’s Defense Weekly. See also Richard Engel, “Inside Al-Qaeda: A Window into the World of Militant Islam and the Afghani Alumni,” Jane’s Defense Weekly, 28 September 2001, http://www.janes.com/security/international_security/news/misc/janes010928_1_n.shtml.

6. Susan Rice, “US Foreign Assistance and Failed States,” working paper for the Brookings website, The Brookings Institution, 25 November 2002, http://www.brook.edu/views/papers/rice/20021125.htm.

7. Dr. Paul Melsher, Combined Joint Task Force Horn of Africa Political-Military Advisor, personal interview, 8 March 2004.

8. Dr. J. Stephen Morrison, testimony before the US Congress, House of Representatives, International Relations Committee, Subcommittee on Africa, 15 November 2001.

9. “Foreign Policy for a World of Decision,” Rand Review, Summer 2000, http://www.rand.org/publications/randreview/issues/rr.7.00/foreign.html.

10. For a detailed description of the complex relationship between the AIDS pandemic and violent conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa, see the United States Institute of Peace, Special Report 75, “AIDS and Violent Conflict in Africa,” 15 October 2001.

11. Claire Bisseker, “Africa’s Military Time Bomb,” Johannesburg Financial Mail, 11 December 1998.

12. “The Economic Impact of HIV/AIDS in Southern Africa,” Brookings Conference Report, Washington, D.C., No. 9, September 2001.

13. For an overview of the AIDS epidemic and its impact on the failing state of the Democratic Republic of Congo, visit the World Bank country site at http://www.worldbank.org/afr/cd.htm.


14. The United States has a range of economic interests, from oil and gas, pharmaceuticals, and telecoms, to soft drinks, amounting to just over $20 billion. Direct investment also showed a higher average return, roughly 30 percent for Africa compared to 17 percent for the Middle East.

15. US Central Intelligence Agency, National Intelligence Council, Global Trends 2015: A Dialogue about the Future with Nongovernmental Experts, NIC200-02 (Washington: GPO, December 2000), p. 73, http://www.cia.gov/cia/reports/globaltrends2015/.

16. World Bank, World Development Indicators 2003 (Washington: World Bank, 2003).

17. World Bank, World Bank Group in Sub-Saharan Africa (Washington: World Bank, 2003).

18. African Union, Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security Council of the African Union, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, p. 3, http://www.africa-union.org/Official_documents/Treaties_%20conventions_%20Protocols/Protocol_peace%20and%20security.pdf.

19. The AU does not expand on the term “complex peacekeeping operation.” However, the term found in Joint Publication 1-02, DOD Dictionary of Military and Associated Terms, which most closely aligns with the AU term is “complex contingency operations,” which are defined as “large-scale peace operations (or elements thereof) conducted by a combination of military forces and nonmilitary organizations that combine one or more of the elements of peace operations which include one or more elements of other types of operations such as foreign humanitarian assistance, nation assistance, support to insurgency, or support to counterinsurgency.”

20. African Union, Protocol Relating to the Establishment of the Peace and Security, p. 5.

21. Vanessa Kent and Mark Malan, “The Africa Standby Force: Progress and Prospects,” African Security Review, 12 (No. 3, 2003), 72.

22. Dan Henk and Steven Metz, The United States and the Transformation of African Security: The African Crisis Response Initiative and Beyond (Carlisle, Pa.: US Army War College, Strategic Studies Institute, December 1997).

23. Oxford Analytica Daily Brief, “AFRICA: AU Credibility at Stake over Peace-keeping,” 25 August 2004, http://www.oxan.com/db/item.asp?NewsItemID=DB102226.

24. ’Funmi Olonisakin, “African ‘Homemade’ Peacekeeping Initiatives,” Armed Forces & Society, 23 (Spring 1997), 356.

25. In the UN Charter, Chapter VI missions are traditional peacekeeping missions, while Chapter VII missions include peace enforcement missions conducted in a hostile environment.

26. Norwegian Refugee Council, Internally Displaced People: A Global Survey (London: Earthscan Publications, 2002), p. 28.

27. United Nations, Report of the Secretary-General on the Implementation of the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations (New York: United Nations, 20 October 2000).

28. “Tier One” is not a doctrinal term; rather, the author developed it to suggest the military capabilities, professionalism, and core values which set his proposed African Standby Force apart from other proposals.

29. Taken from the last ten years’ statistics from United Nations, “Monthly Summary of Military and Civilian Police Personnel,” Peacekeeping and Regional Organizations Report (New York: United Nations, August 1994-2004); and United Nations, General Assembly, Report of the Secretary-General on the Implementation of the Report of the Panel on United Nations Peace Operations, 20 October 2000.

30. Cedric de Coning, “Peacekeeping Trends,” Center for International Political Studies, University of Pretoria, 16 November 2003, available at http://www.trainingforpeace.org/pubs/accord/ct403deconing.pdf.

31. Joint Staff Directorate and Office of Secretary of Defense, African Affairs, interview, January 2004.

32. George W. Bush, The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington: The White House, September 2002), p. 11.

33. Jim Garamone, “QDR Approves Joint Force Headquarters Concept,” American Forces Information Service, 29 October 2001, http://www.defenselink.mil/news/Oct2001/n10292001_200110295.html.

34. All information concerning Operation Focus Relief was compiled during the author’s interviews with Africa Desk personnel, Office of the Secretary of Defense, and the J-5 Directorate, Joint Chiefs of Staff.

35. Tasks are taken from US Department of Defense, Joint Pub 3-07.3, Joint Tactics, Techniques and Procedures for Peace Operations (Washington: GPO, 12 February 1999), and NATO publication AJP-3.4.1, Peace Support Operations, http://www.pronato.com/peacekeeping/AJP-3.4.1/.

36. For more information regarding Combined Joint Task Force HOA, see “CJTF-HOA Background Fact Sheet,” http://www.cjtfhoa.centcom.mil/factsheets/CJTF-HOA%20Background%20Fact%20Sheet.doc.

37. GlobalSecurity.org, “Exercises – European Command,” http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/ops/ex-eucom.htm.

38. Kent and Malan, p. 73.

39. Ibid., p. 77.

40. China Africa Cooperation Forum, “Creation of the Forum,” http://www.china.org.cn/english/features/China-Africa/82047.htm.

Lieutenant Colonel Mike Denning, USMC, is an AH-1W (Cobra) pilot who recently returned from Iraq with Task Force Tarawa. Prior to that, he served four years with Marine Light/Attack Helicopter Squadron-269, two years as the Commanding Officer and two years as the Executive Officer. Lieutenant Colonel Denning started his Marine Corps career as an artillery officer with 4th Battalion, 11th Marines. His staff experience includes Headquarters Marine Corps as the Assistant Secretary, General Staff for the Director, Marine Corps Staff at the Pentagon. He graduated with distinction from the US Naval War College, where he earned an M.S. degree in national security affairs, and he served as a National Security Fellow at the Kennedy School of Government.

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Reviewed 23 November 2004. Please send comments or corrections to usarmy.carlisle.awc.mbx.parameters@mail.mil