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February 13, 2016

Administration Security Message Pre-Africa Summit: Not Just Military

Obama meets with members of Congress on foreign policy Thursday in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Clockwise from left: Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Rice, and lawmakers. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Obama meets with members of Congress on foreign policy Thursday in the Cabinet Room of the White House. Clockwise from left: Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., Rice, and lawmakers. (Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images)

Over the past couple days, including again Thursday, Obama administration officials previewing next week’s U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit have been reinforcing the following message about a continent with a number of national security hotspots right now: The answer isn’t just the military.

“On foreign assistance, I think we will be looking at the broad range of foreign assistance, not just the military side,” Linda Thomas-Greenfield, assistant secretary of State for Africa affairs, said Thursday at an Atlantic Council event previewing the summit. “We did hear in consultations with African governments that they wanted to take about peace and security, how they can better fill the capacity to respond to securtiy challenges on the continent. It is multifaceted. It is not just the U.S. military involved in that.”

Thomas-Greenfield touted State Department training and the work of State contractors as being “very successful.”

Speaking at the U.S. Institute of Peace Wednesday, national security adviser Susan Rice highlighted security progress in places like Angola and Liberia, but increased conflict in the eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo, South Sudan and Sudan, with weak governments in Mali and Somalia letting those countries become havens for terrorists.

In light of that, Rice said:

Contrary to some claims, the United States is not looking to militarize Africa or maintain a permanent military presence. But we are committed to helping our partners confront transnational threats to our shared security… Today, al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb is controlling parts of Mali, Boko Haram bombs markets and kidnaps young girls, and al-Shabaab terrorizes a shopping mall in Nairobi. That is why we are stepping up our efforts to train peacekeepers who are professional and effective forces who can secure the region, and by extension the global community, against terrorist threats, and against threats that derive from conflict.

She cited nearly $9 billion in contributes under President Barack Obama to U.N. peacekeeping missions in Africa, and U.S. training of nearly 250,000 peacekeepers there since 2005.

Thomas-Greenfield also added that the Africa summit isn’t merely a reaction to developments there.

“We want African leaders, African citizens and Americans to come away with the clear message that the United States cares about the continent of Africa and we’re committed to an enduring multi-faceted partnership,” she said. “This is not a renewal of our relationship with Africa, this is not a new relationship with Africa, this is not a reflection of us determining that we’ve been out of the game for many years. This is building on what is a strong, historical relationship with the continent of Africa.”

But that message is harder to convey, she said, when there are ambassadorial vacancies in U.S. embassies, which African leaders take as a slight to that relationship.

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