I feel fortunate that I can say that I was present at the inception of U.S. Africa Command (Africom), the U.S. military headquarters that oversees and coordinates U.S. military activities in Africa. Starting with just a handful of people sitting around a table nearly four years ago, we built an organization dedicated to the idea that U.S. security interests in Africa are best served by building long-term partnerships with African nations, regional organizations, and the African Union. At the same time, however, there has been a great deal of speculation and concern about Africom. We believe our work and accomplishments will continue to speak for themselves.
Still, many of these concerns raise important issues, and it is important to continue to address and clarify Africom's position on these issues. There is great work being done by and for Africa nations with Africom's assistance, and the success of the missions between these partner nations inevitably affects the security of the United States and the world as a whole. During our work in designing Africom and helping guide it through the early years of its existence, a number of lessons have helped inform our decisions and ensure we performed our job responsibly and effectively.
Lesson 1: Africom does not create policy.
One of the most serious criticisms leveled at Africom is that the organization represents a U.S. military takeover of the foreign-policy process. This is certainly not true, though I suspect some of our more outspoken critics have been so vocal about this that it is quite challenging for them to change course.
Let there be no mistake. Africom's job is to protect American lives and promote American interests. That is what nations and militaries do. But we also have found that our own national interest in a stable and prosperous Africa is shared strongly by our African partners. By working together, we can pursue our shared interests more effectively.
Africa's security challenges are well known. They include piracy and illegal trafficking, ethnic tensions, irregular militaries and violent extremist groups, undergoverned regions, and pilferage of resources. This last challenge includes oil theft, as well as widespread illegal fishing that robs the African people of an estimated $1 billion a year because their coastal patrols lack the capacity to find and interdict suspicious vessels within their territorial waters and economic exclusion zones.
As a military organization, most of our work consists of supporting security and stability programs in Africa and its island nations. Our focus is on building capacity, both with African national militaries and, increasingly, with Africa's regional organizations. One of our biggest success stories is the Africa Partnership Station, a Navy program that partners Africom with African and international sailors to put together a multinational staff aboard a U.S. or international vessel. This creates what some have called a "floating schoolhouse," where the staff share a host of ideas, ranging from basic search-and-rescue techniques to advanced concepts of maritime domain awareness.
Across the continent, we work closely within the framework of the overall U.S. government effort. As a military organization, we do not create policy. Rather, we support those policy decisions and coordinate our actions closely with the State Department, U.S. embassies in the region, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and other U.S. government agencies that have been trusted partners in Africa for decades.