The role of AFRICOM in achieving a Landmine-Free Africa

The US military’s Africa Command (AFRICOM) based in, of all places, Stuttgart, Germany, inspires a kind neo-colonial fear among many Africans and Africanists, not unlike the shadow that France and China cast over the continent.  Without directly addressing those fears, I believe it’s important to recognize some of the good that can come from AFRICOM’s presence and activity in Africa.  Specifically AFRICOM’s Humanitarian Mine Action (HMA) program.  Active since at least 2009, AFRICOM’s HMA program conducted 22 training missions in nine different countries in 2013 alone (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014).  Training included topics such as: demining, explosive remnants of war (ERW), Explosive Ordnance Disposal (EOD) International Mine Action Standards (IMAS) Levels I and II, Vehicle Maintenance, Medical First Responder, Mine Risk Education, and stockpile conventional munitions assistance in support of the US Government’s HMA program.  The training curricula were developed by experts at the United Nations Mine Action Service (UNMAS) and the Geneva International Centre for Humanitarian Demining (GICHD) and reflect current best practices and knowledge (All Partners Access Network).  One current gap in the training program is comprehensive victim assistance for landmine and ERW survivors.

Kenyan and US soldiers participate in HMA training of trainers.

Kenyan and US soldiers participate in HMA training of trainers.

To receive support from AFRICOM’s HMA support, national authorities must submit requests to the US embassy which then forwards requests to the State Department.  The State Department then combines all requests and reviews them as part of the broader humanitarian efforts conducted by the State Department and the Department of Defense.  While plans are still being confirmed, AFRICOM may conduct as many as 40 HMA missions in nine countries in 2014 covering IMAS Levels I and II, ERW Operations, Medical First Responder, Basic and Advanced Demining, and stockpile management and destruction (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014).

As examples of the kind of training offered by AFRICOM, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have participated in multiple HMA missions.  In 2009, the DRC military (the FARDC) requested support from the US State Department to conduct mine action activities in the eastern provinces, in and around Kisangani.  After at least eight separate missions of up to three weeks in duration and the donation of $125,000 worth of mine detection and explosive ordnance destruction equipment, a sustainable mine action program has been established within the FARDC.  From the FARDC soldiers trained by AFRICOM, a select group of engineers participated in a training of trainers to further expand the skill set within the force (AFRICOM).

Photo from DRC Training

US and Congolese soldiers participate in a field exercise as part of HMA training

About a year ago, AFRICOM hosted a Train the Trainer program for Kenyan Army EOD Combat Engineers.  AFRICOM deployed the US Navy’s EOD Mobile Unit Six to train future instructors within the Kenyan military to respond to the variety of munitions and explosives the Kenyan army encountered in Somalia.  Using a combination of classroom exercises and field simulations, the training mirrors that of the DRC training with the intention of increasing the ability of Kenyan soldiers to train their colleagues (AFRICOM).

Kenyan soldiers participate in a classroom exercise as part of HMA training

Kenyan soldiers participate in a classroom exercise as part of HMA training

Other countries to have received support from AFRICOM include Burundi, Chad, Namibia, Mauritania, Mozambique, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda.  Sharp-eyed readers will note that Kenya and Tanzania do not have landmine or significant ERW contamination and Burundi and Namibia have limited ERW contamination.  For Kenya and Burundi, and likely for other African countries with limited contamination, AFRICOM is deliberately training for peacekeeping operations like the African Union Mission in Somalia to which Burundi, Kenya and Uganda have contributed soldiers.  Referring to the experience, one US Navy trainer said of the peacekeepers, “”They go downrange a lot and we want to make sure they have the knowledge to do well.”  Training engagements support the Component Commands’ goals, like Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa’s (CJTF-HOA) “mission to strengthen security in East Africa through military-to-military engagements with partner nations” (AFRICOM).

US Army Africa (USARAF), based in Vicenza, Italy, is the most forward-thinking of AFRICOM’s Component Commands.  According to its HMA coordinator, Maj. Jennifer Smith, USARAF is looking “expand into victim’s assistance and mine risk education,” adding preventive instruction to the technical training currently on offer.  “If that happens, our numbers will probably increase because we will have concurrent training squads” (US Army Africa). USARAF has also reached out to UNMAS, the HALO Trust and the French government to complement, and not compete with, other actors’ work and address shortfalls identified by the international community and civil society.  USARAF wants to leverage its position to “assist in coordinating and integrating [the HMA] program with our multinational allies’ efforts.” USARAF is also exploring tailoring “U.S. instruction on demining activities to correspond with UNMAS’s ability to help host nations certify their own de-miners and unexploded ordnance incident responders” (Email from Tom Saunders, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, rec’d January 14, 2014).

Michael P. Moore

February 26, 2014

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