Foreign Policy Blogs

U.S. Stability Operations Shouldn’t Short-change Africa

South Sudan rebels [credit:]

South Sudan rebels [credit:]

Al-Qaeda’s incursion into Iraq’s Fallujah area last weekend illustrates the conflict as primarily a stability operations battle – a test over who can legitimately and ably govern – and not a weakness of the U.S. withdrawal or shortfall of Iraqi forces.

Predictably dozens of policy pages began trumpeting that the U.S. had too long delayed promised weapons to Iraq. But critics pushing to provide F-16s and Apaches to the Iraqi forces misread the environment: Al-Qaeda, just like the Taliban and Fidel Castro, gained a foothold among the local population due to shared grievances against the capital and exclusion from the governance process. Sunnis (including outsider militants and key local tribal sheiks) are pushing back against the Shi’a-dominated machine in Baghdad.

It’s not about the biggest guns. As a former U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, James Jeffrey, shared on PBS Newshour on Monday, the Iraqis could easily force out the militants. They “can win any conventional set-piece battle. The question is, do they want to do that in a city with some 300,000 inhabitants?” That is, do they want a street fight that would only mean more casualties and further erode confidence in Prime Minister Maliki’s government, which is the risk unless the Sunni sheiks – the powerbrokers and center of gravity among the local population – refuse to cooperate with Al-Qaeda.

This recent development, along with many other current global conflicts, and reports that future insurgencies are most likely to be in urban settings, underline the importance of stability operations, which address governance issues through the lens of popular legitimacy.

The term “stability operations,” or StabOps, can be ambiguous. The U.S. Department of Defense defines it as a post-conflict process to address humanitarian concerns and smooth political transition. Simply put, if people feel their needs are met, they are unlikely to continue fighting.

Prevention is also a stability operation, such as the work by the US Department of State’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations, which engages in conflict prevention and crisis mitigation.

The recent conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq have been living laboratories for StabOps. Mitigation efforts involving a matrix of tribal, political, economic, and security interests, across multiple provinces, from military and NGO actors, have spawned methodologies, joint military manuals, and an eponymous industry.

International security and development groups are now looking to apply lessons learned in other global hotspots.

Africa is of particular concern, as aging regimes and power structures give way to ethnic and religious nationalism. The Arab Spring thrust much of North Africa into instability, followed more recently by a swathe of neighboring sub-Sahara in Mali, northern Nigeria, Central African Republic, and South Sudan, added to the ongoing struggle in Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Planned U.S. funding for such operations and assistance however does not consistently reflect increased challenges.

  • AFRICOM, the U.S. military command covering security in Africa, has been budgeted at $286 mil in FY 2011 and $276 mil in FY2012. Two months ago Reuters reported that defense cuts would likely take $40 mil off 2014’s budget, with the HQ in Stuttgart to be reduced by 20%. The bulk of the reductions will be made in the scope and nature of exercises, according to Gen. David Rodriguez, head of the command.
  • Though figures are comparably larger, USAID assistance in Africa has been reduced from $7.6 bil in 2012, to $6.3 bil in 2013, and now to a request for $6.6 bil for FY2014.
  • The U.S. State Department’s Bureau of Conflict and Stability Operations (CSO) has received somewhat greater allocations in recent years. Its funding has been FY2011 – $35.19 mil, FY2012 – $30.31 mil, FY2013 – $56.5 mil; though its proposal of $45.2 mil for FY2014 is 20 percent less than last year.
  • The U.S. African Development Foundation, an independent agency that addresses grassroots economic and social problems in conflict and post-conflict communities, has seen its budget reduced from $30 mil (2013) to $24 mil (2014).

Even with reduced foreign assistance budgets, preventive security measures need to remain a priority. Recent developments across Africa reflect an era of political transition spurred by ethnic and religious nationalism, and incumbents are not going quietly. With industrial powers heavily invested in African natural resources and boosting trade ties, scenarios of instability can also affect global markets. With such correlation, successful stability operations could reduce the risk of political unrest AND related economic uncertainty.



Jason Anderson

Jason has lived and worked for over five years in Russian-speaking countries. He spent April-May 2014 researching religious extremist groups in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan. He has project experience in Afghanistan, Central Asia, and the Caucasus. He previously served as a trainer for U.S. military and civilians working alongside counterparts in Afghanistan, and as a coordinator with Afghan ministerial advisors on National Priority Program (NPP) funding proposals. Jason speaks conversational Russian and holds a Master of International Affairs from Columbia University.