In May 2008, the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, hosted “Unified Quest 2008,” the Army’s annual war games to test the American military’s ability to deal with the kind of crises that it might face in the near future. “Unified Quest 2008” was especially noteworthy because it was the first time that the war games included African scenarios as part of the Pentagon’s plan to create a new military command for the continent: the Africa Command or AFRICOM. No representatives of AFRICOM were at the war games, but AFRICOM officers were in close communication throughout the event.
The five-day war games—co-sponsored by the Army Training and Doctrine Command (TRADOC), the Special Forces Command, and the Joint Forces Command—were designed to look at what crises might erupt in different parts of the world in five to 25 years and how the United States might handle them. In addition to U.S. military officers and intelligence officers, “Unified Quest 2008” brought together participants from the State Department and other U.S. government agencies, academics, journalists, and foreign military officers (including military representatives from several NATO countries, Australia, and Israel), along with the private military contractors who helped run the war games: the Rand Corporation and Booz-Allen.
One of the four scenarios that were wargamed was a test of how AFRICOM could respond to a crisis in Somalia—set in 2025—caused by escalating insurgency and piracy. Unfortunately, no information on the details of the scenario is available.
Far more information is available on the other scenario—set in 2013—which was a test of how AFRICOM could respond to a crisis in Nigeria in which the Nigerian government is near collapse, and rival factions and rebels are fighting for control of the oil fields of the Niger Delta and vying for power in that oil-rich country, the sixth largest supplier of America’s oil imports.
The list of options for the Nigeria scenario ranged from diplomatic pressure to military action, with or without the aid of European and African nations. One participant, U.S. Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel Mark Stanovich, drew up a plan that called for the deployment of thousands of U.S. troops within 60 days, which even he thought was undesirable. “American intervention could send the wrong message: that we are backing a government that we don’t intend to,” Stanovich said. Other participants suggested that it would be better if the U.S. government sent a request to South Africa or Ghana to send into Nigeria instead.
As the game progressed, according to former U.S. ambassador David Lyon, it became clear that the government of Nigeria was a large part of the problem. As he put it, “we have a circle of elites [the government of Nigeria] who have seized resources and are trying to perpetuate themselves. Their interests are not exactly those of the people.” (Brackets in original text)
Furthermore, according to U.S. Army Major Robert Thornton, an officer with the Joint Center for International Security Force Assistance at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, “it became apparent that it was actually green (the host nation government) which had the initiative, and that any blue [the U.S. government and its allies] actions within the frame were contingent upon what green was willing to tolerate and accommodate.”
As he explained in a detailed report that he posted on the web, “as the interactive process continued we realized that the host nation had much more tolerance than the design frame had accounted for: example one of the groups Red represented [the rival factions and the rebels] sponsored an assassination attempt from within the host nation’s V.P.’s [Vice President’s] body guard against the President—Blue thought this would be the event that convinced the President to accept our appraisal and recommendations—Green responded by hiring the best western protection service oil money can buy and by waging a brutal COIN [counterinsurgency] campaign against the primary opposition group of a type that would be politically and culturally unavailable to the U.S. but well within the tolerance of green. At that point we realized that the logic which underpinned the design frame was faulty—and a euphemism emerged “if your partner is lame, you must reframe.” While the logic said a government will not willingly create suicide might be sound, that logic did not extend to a government that did not see suicide as its only option. So while the framework identified the government as loosing control and failing, the host nation government did not believe it was. In other words the understanding of the host government’s tolerance was flawed. However, the process is what allowed that to come out.”
As a result, the Blue team began to discuss the possibility of direct American military intervention involving some 20,000 U.S. troops in order to “secure the Oil.” According to Thornton, “we also discussed the need to continue dialogue with Green as well as begin covert discussions with potential rivals (some of Red)—here you had an interesting emergence as some of Red’s goals are more in line with Blue than Green’s were, and a possibility that Red may become Green. Through interaction we found that Green would be willing to receive greater IO [international organization] and NGO aid to the Humanitarian Crisis in the North, which would allow it some freedom of maneuver (both politically and physically) in the Delta region– as such we explored ways to increase capacity of the IOs and NGOs through logistics, and C2 [command and control] while maintaining the lowest possible U.S. signature inside the host nation – e.g. build capacity in the broader distribution system and build interoperability in the C2 structure as well as thicken their networks and provide ISR [intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance] support to the HR [humanitarian relief] effort.”
Then, Thornton reported, “the next event was the successful Coup by Red – which in turn meant Red became Green. The new Green now had a sincere interest in gaining legitimacy and credibility, and as such was more open to our increasing HR aid. The remainder of the Red Groups now saw an opportunity that did not exist before of new ways to realize their own political objectives and were willing to meet with the new host nation government, as such there was a window of stability. Our assessments now turned to establishing the tolerances of what form that increased assistance could take under the new government. We learned through the framing process that the system would only tolerate a certain amount of energy (you could also consider it as a question of how much capacity it could/would absorb) before the outcomes changed.”
This said Thornton “created a new opportunity for Blue. Blue offered Green increased aid and assistance, and created the conditions for a broader relationship that could be built upon as Blue built up trust, and a legitimatized Green now had to govern. Not a perfect ending – still some warts, but it did better achieve the political objective of energy security and regional stability by not protracting the conflict further through our own actions, as well as identifying and reinforcing new conditions that were more congruent with U.S., regional and partner political objectives.”
The game thus ended without direct U.S. military intervention on the ground, because one of the rival factions executed a successful coup and formed a new government that sought stability. As a result of the coup, “we no longer had tensions. Now what you had was a government interested in reconciliation between various tribal factions, NGOs, and multinational organizations to build capacity for humanitarian relief,” said Thornton.
The Pentagon is well aware that vital tasks of humanitarian relief, as well as post-conflict reconstruction and development are essential to the successful resolution of such conflicts. In fact, said Lieutenant Colonel John Miller of TRADOC, one of the aims of the exercise was to help agencies like the Departments of State and Justice “go to Congress and get the money so they are fully supported,” and thus ensure that the full burden of these tasks doesn’t fall on the military.
At the end of the war game the participants drew up a set of recommendations for the Army’s Chief of Staff, General George Casey, for him to present to President Bush. These recommendations do not appear to be publicly available, so we don’t know what the participants concluded as a result of the war games beyond the lessons mentioned in Thornton’s report. But we do know that since the war games took place in the midst of the presidential election campaign, General Casey decided to brief both John McCain and Barack Obama on the results of the exercise.
We can only wonder what Barack Obama thought of the wargame and what lessons he learned from General Casey’s briefing. One might hope that he came away with a new appreciation for the danger, if not the outright absurdity, of pursuing the strategy of unilateral American military intervention in Africa pioneered by Defense Secretary Robert Gates, who was retained as Defense Secretary by President Obama when he took office, and Army Chief of Staff General George Casey, who also kept his job under the Obama administration. But President Obama has decided instead to expand the operations of AFRICOM throughout the continent. He has proposed a budget for FY 2010 that will provide increased security assistance to repressive and undemocratic governments in resource-rich countries like Nigeria, Niger, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and to countries that are key military allies of the United States like Ethiopia, Kenya, Djibouti, Rwanda, and Uganda. And he has actually chosen to escalate U.S. military intervention in Africa, most conspicuously by providing arms and training to the beleaguered Transitional Federal Government of Somalia as part of his effort to make Africa a central battlefield in the Global War on Terrorism. So it is clearly wishful thinking to believe that his exposure to the real risks of such a strategy revealed by these hypothetical scenarios gave him a better appreciation of the risks that the strategy entails.
Daniel Volman (dvolman1(at)veizon.net) is the Director of the African Security Research Project in Washington, DC, and a member of the Board of Directors of the Association of Concerned Africa Scholars. He has been studying U.S. security policy toward Africa and U.S. military activities in Africa for more than thirty years.