Twenty seventeen was a year of investigations for US Africa Command (AFRICOM). There was the investigation of the two-star commander of US Army Africa who allegedly sent racy texts to an enlisted man’s wife. There was the investigation into the alleged killing of a Special Forces soldier by Navy SEALs in Mali. There was the inquiry into reports of torture and killings on a remote base in Cameroon that was also used by American forces. There was the investigation of an alleged massacre of civilians by American special operators in Somalia. And don’t forget the inquiry into the killing of four Special Forces soldiers by Islamic State militants in Niger.
And then there was the investigation that hardly anyone heard about, that didn’t spark a single headline. And still, the question remains: Whatever became of that $500 million?
To be fair, this particular scandal isn’t AFRICOM’s alone, nor did that sizable sum belong only to that one command. And unlike the possibly tens of thousands of dollars in cash that reportedly went missing in connection with the strangulation of the Green Beret in Mali, that $500 million didn’t simply vanish. Still, a report by the Defense Department’s inspector general (IG), released into the news wasteland of the day after Christmas 2017, does raise questions about a combatant command with a history of scandals, including significant failures in planning, executing, tracking, and documenting projects across the African continent, as well as the effectiveness of US assistance efforts there.
From fiscal years 2014 through 2016, AFRICOM and Central Command (CENTCOM), the umbrella organization for US military activities in the Greater Middle East, received a combined $496 million to conduct counternarcotics (CN) activities. That substantial sum was used by the respective commands to fund myriad projects from the construction of border outposts in allied nations to training personnel in policing skills like evidence collection. Or at least, that’s how it was supposed to be used. According to the IG, neither AFRICOM nor CENTCOM “maintained reliable data for the completion status and funding of training, equipping, and construction activities.” That means no one—not the IG investigators, not AFRICOM, not CENTCOM personnel—seems to have any idea how much of that money was spent, what it was spent on, whether the funded projects were ever completed, or whether any of it made a difference in the fight against illegal drugs in Africa and the Middle East.
“U.S. Central and U.S. Africa Commands did not provide effective oversight of [fiscal years] 2014 through 2016 counternarcotics activities,” wrote Michael Roark, an assistant inspector general, in a memorandum sent to the chiefs of both commands as well as to Pentagon officials in December 2017. “Specifically, neither U.S. Central nor U.S. Africa Command maintained reliable data for the completion status and funding of counternarcotics training, equipping, and construction activities.” What is clear is that large sums of taxpayer dollars allotted to such training activities were inconsistently tracked or accounted for, including—according to Bruce Anderson, a spokesman for the Office of Inspector General—$73 million in AFRICOM counternarcotics funding.