U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) is helping African nations counter security threats and respond to humanitarian crises, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
Africa is home to 13 of the world’s 25 fastest-growing economies. But African nations also face security and humanitarian challenges from extremist groups, climate change, food shortages and disease threats. AFRICOM is partnering with African nations to address these challenges.
Founded in October 2007, AFRICOM has the mission of coordinating the defense element of broad-reaching U.S. government efforts to help negate the drivers of conflict and extremism in Africa. AFRICOM is one of 11 U.S. Defense Department combatant commands worldwide that coordinate U.S. military forces during peace and war.
The service members of AFRICOM work with partner government forces to counter terrorist groups, ensure freedom of navigation, and support international humanitarian relief and disaster response efforts.
“Working together is critical to addressing threats from malign actors and violent extremist organizations, which threaten regional security and present a danger to the U.S. homeland and that of our allies,” AFRICOM’s commander, U.S. Army General Stephen Townsend, said in October 2020.
Training on land and at sea
African nations face threats from multiple terrorist groups, including al-Qaeda and ISIS affiliates in the Sahel and East Africa. U.S. forces, working together with the U.S. Department of State, join African partners in training on land and sea to counter these and other threats.
In April 21 testimony before the U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee, Townsend said that countering challenges in Africa requires a whole-of-government approach rather than a military solution.
“U.S. Africa Command works with other U.S. agencies such as [the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)] and other international organizations to help improve security and build capacity across the spectrum,” he said. “We work through our African partners first and our international partners second. We lead with diplomacy, follow with development, and secure with defense.”
From May 17 to 28, AFRICOM led U.S. forces and those from 13 partner nations in Exercise Phoenix Express to promote safety and security in the Mediterranean Sea and North African territorial waters. Tunisia hosted the 16th iteration of this annual maritime exercise, which helps partners respond to irregular migration and combat illicit trafficking. Other maritime exercises conducted by AFRICOM’s naval component include Obangame Express, in the Gulf of Guinea, and Cutlass Express, off Africa’s east coast.
“Our maritime exercises allow us to develop our skills with our regional partners by learning from each other and working together,” said U.S. Navy Captain Harry Knight, director of Phoenix Express.
From June 7 to 18, AFRICOM conducted Exercise African Lion in Morocco, Tunisia and Senegal. AFRICOM’s premier exercise, African Lion is conducted with more than 20 European and African partner forces and seeks to increase interoperability, promote stability and deter malign activity in North Africa and southern Europe.
The United States and African nations also strengthen defense against terrorist groups through Exercise Flintlock, conducted by AFRICOM’s special operations component.
First launched in 2005, Flintlock helps West African nations protect their borders and provide security. AFRICOM’s counterterrorism cooperation complements long-standing U.S. commitment and USAID programs promoting good governance and security in Africa.
Fighting the COVID-19 pandemic
To help partners fight the COVID-19 pandemic, AFRICOM has provided laboratory supplies to Ethiopia and Ghana, testing equipment to Guinea, personal protective equipment to Morocco, and field hospitals and ambulances to Ghana, Mauritania, Senegal, Djibouti and Uganda.
In October 2020, AFRICOM set up a $1.4 million, 40-bed field hospital in South Africa’s North West province as COVID-19 cases spiked in the region. In May, Townsend and U.S. Ambassador to Djibouti Jonathan Pratt announced the donation of a field hospital to Djibouti’s Ministry of Health, part of more than $8.4 million in COVID-19 assistance the U.S. government has provided to Djibouti since the pandemic began.
Supporting disaster relief
AFRICOM also supports USAID, the lead U.S. agency for foreign disaster relief, using military capabilities to help deliver assistance to Africans who are most in need.
After Tropical Cyclone Idai hit southern Africa in March 2019, AFRICOM deployed a C-130 Hercules cargo aircraft and a contingency response team to quickly deliver relief supplies, including food, shelter kits and vehicles, to hard-to-reach areas.
A version of this story was previously published on May 27.