NAIROBI -- U.S. aid to Africa is becoming increasingly militarized, resulting in skewed priorities and less attention to longer-term development projects that could lead to greater stability across the continent, according to a report released Thursday by the advocacy group Refugees International.
The report warns that the planned U.S. Africa Command, designed to boost America's image and prevent terrorism, is allowing the Defense Department to usurp funds traditionally directed by the State Department and U.S. aid agencies.
A Pentagon spokesman did not return a call requesting comment. But Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates warned this week against the risk of a "creeping militarization" of U.S. foreign policy and said the State Department should lead U.S. engagement with other countries.
The Pentagon, which controlled about 3 percent of official aid money a decade ago, now controls 22 percent, while the U.S. Agency for International Development's share has declined from 65 percent to 40 percent, according to the 56-page report.
"The danger is this strategy will not achieve the security objectives of addressing the root causes of terrorism," said Mark Malan, author of the report. "And it certainly won't address the developmental objectives of U.S. foreign policy."
Refugees International, based in Washington, provides aid to refugees and advocates for solutions to end conditions that create displacement.
Malan said the militarization has been driven by the U.S. focus on counterterrorism, though the trend dates to the Cold War era. The more fundamental problem, he said, is a lack of consistent, coherent U.S. foreign policy attention to Africa.
For example, the United States has dedicated nearly $50 million to hire contractors to train 2,000 soldiers in post-civil war Liberia, a West African country of 4 million people. Meanwhile, $5.5 million has been dedicated to boosting a weak and unprofessional army of 164,000 soldiers in Congo, a country of 65 million where a decade-long conflict and humanitarian crisis have left an estimated 5 million people dead.
The headquarters of the new African command post, known as Africom, has not been determined, and many African leaders have rejected hosting it. A temporary headquarters is being set up in Stuttgart, Germany, and is expected to begin consolidating responsibility for the continent in October.
Africom in part aims to better integrate U.S. efforts in Africa by coordinating military activities with the State Department and other agencies, but "the State Department is being overwhelmed by the Pentagon," Malan said.
That concern was also raised in a Government Accountability Office report on Africom released this week. The report noted that Africom, which is to have about 1,300 employees, has had difficulty integrating 13 staff members from the State Department and other agencies.
"State Department and U.S. Agency for International Development officials have expressed concerns that Africom will become the lead for all U.S. efforts in Africa, rather than just DOD activities," the report said.
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