A turf war over Africa is dividing two wings of the U.S. military as they build a massive security presence on the continent while creating new and thorny problems for President Barack Obama.
Vying for increased power is the Special Operations Command (Socom), on one side, and regional commanders under the State Dept. on the other.
Socom's Adm. William H. McRaven was betting on a larger role for his elite units who operate in the shadowy corners of American foreign policy. He wanted increased authority to train foreign internal security forces, previously off-limits to the American military.
But the other side, under Hillary Clinton's State Dept. and its regional commanders, wasn't about to cede its authority. In a surprise decision by independent House and Senate officials, Socom’s latest demand was turned down.
The power struggle puts a harsh spotlight on the dizzying spiral of new U.S. military engagements throughout Africa and the “power grab” – as it has been called – by Special Ops, who have been deploying in Mali, Mauritania and potentially all the way to Nigeria.
In fact, few countries have not seen one or more faces of the U.S. military as it pursues targets in the Central African Republic; Democratic Republic of the Congo; South Sudan; and Entebbe and Kampala, Uganda. Training and other operations are underway in Djibouti, Chad, Somalia, Burundi, Namibia and South Africa, among others. Since 9/11, Socom’s budget has quadrupled with some 66,000 uniformed and civilian personnel on the rolls, with further growth projected.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, at command headquarters in Tampa last month, urged both groups to work out their differences. “We need Special Operations forces who are as comfortable drinking tea with tribal leaders as raiding a terrorist compound… We also need diplomats and development experts who understand modern warfare and are up to the job of being your partners."