AFRICOM: A Neocolonial Occupation Force?

Source:  Counterpunch
December 11 2018

usa africa commandAmid the George HW Bush imperial death-orgy, the endless saga of Midtown Mussolini’s daily news cycle, the seemingly unprecedented political upsurge in France, and countless other show-stopping news stories, you likely missed three very sad, yet revealing, incidents out of the Sahel region of West-Central Africa.

First, on November 18th, a massive offensive against a Nigerian military base by a faction of the Boko Haram terror group known as the Islamic State West Africa (ISWAP) killed upwards of 100 soldiers. The surprise attack came at a time when Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari, who famously (and repeatedly) has declared victory against Boko Haram and terrorism, has faced a crisis of legitimacy, falling approval ratings, and an impending election in early 2019.

Just days later, on November 22nd, while most Americans were gathering with family and eating turkey on Thanksgiving, a contingent of about 50 armed militants kidnapped at least 15 girls in Niger, just outside a town in the Diffa region, near the border with Nigeria. While Boko Haram did not officially claim responsibility, many have attributed the action to the terror group, or one of its factions, given their propensity to use kidnappings for propaganda and fundraising.

And on the very same day, also in Diffa near the Niger-Nigeria border, suspected Boko Haram militants killed seven employees of Foraco, a French well drilling and mining company.

This spate of deadly, and rather brazen, attacks on civilians along the Niger-Nigeria border paints a troubling picture of the continued instability of the region, and give the lie to the idea that counter-terrorism operations, ongoing for a number of years now, have put Boko Haram and other terror groups on the back foot.

This reality is undoubtedly a political liability for Nigerian President Buhari who was elected on the promise of stamping out terrorism and bringing stability and the rule of law to Nigeria. Of course, a number of uncomfortable questions can and should be asked of Buhari, his top military commanders, and other bureaucrats in his administration.

But perhaps the more salient questions should be posed, not to Nigeria’s government, but to the US Government itself, and specifically its African Command (AFRICOM). For it is Washington, not Abuja, that has poured billions of dollars into counter-terrorism and surveillance in the Sahel and West Africa. Considering the laundry list of attacks and killings, one could naturally ask the question: What exactly is the US doing over there, if not counter-terrorism?

Nigeria, Niger, and AFRICOM

These most recent incidents paint a worrying portrait of the on-the-ground reality in the region where terror groups not only continue to exist, but seemingly are thriving. Lucrative trade in illicit goods, drugs, human trafficking, and more has continued to line the pockets of these militant organizations. But the very fact that these killings are continuing calls into question the efficacy of, and agenda behind, the US AFRICOM force.

As the Washington Post reported back in 2013, the US has chosen Agadez, Niger as the site of a massive new drone facility that will act as a “strategic foothold” in West Africa, specifically with regard to the stated mission of surveillance of terrorist networks. And the US has been flying drones from the facility for more than five years.

However, as The Intercept’s Nick Turse has reported, what was originally intended to be a relatively small facility hosting a few US drones and military advisers has ballooned into a more than $100 million investment that will be one of the US’s most costly foreign military construction projects. And instead of simply housing a handful of Predator drones, the facility will be the base for MQ-9 Reaper drones before the end of next year. Naturally, it’s unclear just how many drones are already flying out of the facility, though knowledgeable observers assume a significant number already are.

This base, which will act as a hub of the broader AFRICOM drone surveillance network sprawling over much of the African continent, is just a short flight from where these latest horrific incidents have taken place. And yet, it seems the US either was unable or unwilling to do anything to stop them. Even with the most advanced surveillance and communications equipment, somehow groups of dozens or hundreds of fighters are moving into towns conducting mass kidnappings, pillage, and worse all under the nose of Washington.

And beyond the Agadez base, the US has a military presence in both Niger and Nigeria, with both countries routinely hosting US soldiers and military advisers, often with the specific intent of assisting local forces in the fight against Boko Haram and other terrorist groups. An ambush attack against 4 US soldiers in Niger has recently brought the issue into the headlines as Washington considers reducing the number of ground operations its soldiers directly participate in.

It should also be noted that the US operates a number of other clandestine surveillance hubs throughout the continent, at least one of which is in relatively close proximity to the area where the attacks took place. As the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock reported in 2012:

“A key hub of the U.S. spying network can be found in Ouagadougou, the…capital of Burkina Faso… Under a classified surveillance program code-named Creek Sand, dozens of U.S. personnel and contractors have come to Ouagadougou in recent years to establish a small air base on the military side of the international airport. The unarmed U.S. spy planes fly hundreds of miles north to Mali, Mauritania and the Sahara.”

Moreover, AFRICOM leads annual, large-scale military exercises throughout the region, as well as focusing on broad strategic initiatives that embed US military forces into the military command structures of these countries.

A Little History

It should be noted that the US has been involved in the Sahel region going back to the early years of the George W. Bush administration, even before the establishment of AFRICOM, which was later greatly expanded by the Obama administration.

After 9/11, the United States began to grow its military footprint on the African continent under the guise of a ‘War on Terror’, selling this notion to a United States gripped with fear of terrorism. With programs such as the Pan-Sahel Initiative, later broadened into the Trans-Saharan Counterterrorism Initiative, Washington managed to provide military and financial assistance to compliant countries in North Africa – a policy whose practical application meant that the US military became the dominant force in the Sahel region, supplying the human and material resources for which the governments of the region were starved. Naturally, this meant an implicit subservience to US military command.

And with the establishment of AFRICOM, these relationships were further cemented such that today we see annual, massive military exercises such as Exercise Flintlock which brings together numerous African countries under the auspices of US military leadership. While this year marked the first time that the more than 20 nations’ militaries were led by African forces, it remains US military at the head of the table.

Any guesses where Flintlock 2018 took place? That’s right, Niger.

It’s the Resources, Stupid

President Obama was not the architect of AFRICOM, which was established in 2007 under Bush, but he was perhaps its greatest champion, greatly expanding its scope and funding.

Obama grandly proclaimed in 2014:

“Today’s principal threat no longer comes from a centralized Al Qaeda leadership. Instead, it comes from decentralized Al Qaeda affiliates and extremists, many with agendas focused in the countries where they operate…We need a strategy that matches this diffuse threat; one that expands our reach without sending forces that stretch our military thin, or stir up local resentments.”

As with all things Obama, the truth and disinformation so seamlessly blend together that it can be difficult to parse one from the other. While no doubt there is truth in what he stated, the underlying subtext is much more interesting to consider. For while Obama and his cohorts would endlessly wax poetic about security and stability, the true mission of AFRICOM is neocolonial in nature.

Yes, it must be said that in fact AFRICOM is an occupying force that in no way functions to guarantee the security of African people (see Libya, among others), but rather to guarantee the free flow of resources out of Africa and into the Global North, particularly former colonial powers like France and Britain, and of course the US.

In case there’s any doubt, consider the following statements from Vice-Admiral Robert Moeller, military deputy to former commander of AFRICOM General William ‘Kip’ Ward, who told an AFRICOM conference in 2008 that AFRICOM’s goal was “protecting the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market.” Furthermore, Moeller wrote in 2010, “Let there be no mistake. AFRICOM’s job is to protect American lives and promote American interests.”

So, if we strip away the flowery rhetoric about stability and security, both, of course, vital to resource extraction and export, it becomes clear that it is, in fact, natural resources that drive the US strategic interest in Africa, along with countering the growing Chinese footprint on the continent.

Major oil discoveries

The last decade has seen major oil discoveries throughout the Lake Chad Basin which have transformed how the states of West Africa view their economic future. At the heart of the basin is Lake Chad, surrounded by the countries of Nigeria, Chad, Cameroon and Niger.  According to a 2010 assessment from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the Chad Basin has “estimated mean volumes of 2.32 billion barrels of oil, 14.65 trillion cubic feet of natural gas and 391 million barrels of natural gas liquids.”  The potential size of these resources has attracted the attention of political and business leaders, both in the region and internationally.

Those oil reserves have gained the attention of each of the Lake Chad littoral states, and led to something of a scramble among them to siphon off as much oil from their neighbors as possible. Of course, it’s not only oil and gas that are of interest, especially since the US has become a net exporter of oil.

But for France, the former colonial power in the region, which still maintains a large military presence in the Sahel under the auspices of Operation Barkhane, oil remains an essential priority in Africa.

As a top oil executive in Chad told Nigerian daily This Day that, “Currently, oil from Lake Chad being drilled by the Republic of Chad is…shipped through tankers to the international refineries at the Port of Le Havre in France.”

And in Niger, a country rich in mineral deposits such as uranium which are vital to France’s vast nuclear energy sector, France remains the dominant economic player. As Think Africa Press reported in 2014:

“France currently sources over 75 percent of its electricity from nuclear energy and is dependent on Niger for much of its immediate and future uranium supply. This dependence could grow even further when production at the recently-discovered Imouraren uranium deposit is up and running in 2015. The mine is set to produce 5,000 tonnes of uranium per year and would help make Niger the second-largest uranium producer in the world. Areva, which is 87 percent owned by the French state and holds a majority share in three out of the four uranium mining companies operating in Niger, is funding the new mine.”

And oh, by the way, Niger’s president Mahamadou Issoufou is a former employee of Areva, the French company that dominates the uranium trade in Africa.

Perhaps then we should return our thinking to the recent attack that killed seven employees of the French drilling company Foraco. Was this part of the broader efforts by French capitalists to continue extracting uranium and/or other minerals for shipment back to the “mother country”? One has to wonder, considering Foraco does not confine itself solely to drilling wells for water.

Is the US surveillance architecture so brittle and inept that it simply missed the movement of hundreds of members of the very organizations Washington is allegedly fighting in the region? Is it simply that the US is unable to effectively spy on this area until its massive Agadez base is complete? Is it that these terror groups have grown in sophistication such that they are able to elude the most advanced military and spying capabilities in the world?

The answers to these questions might take some time to fully emerge. But what we do know is that US military in Africa is effectively an occupation and resource extraction force that uses local militaries as proxies for its own agenda. The terror groups operating in the region have made untold millions and committed countless atrocities right under the noses of the purportedly benevolent American military forces.

So, if counter-terrorism is really what the US is interested in in the Sahel and West Africa, then the AFRICOM mission is an abject failure. Of course, seen as a neocolonial occupying force utilizing both hard and soft power to entrench US hegemony and guarantee the free flow of resources from Africa, it is a rousing success.

Drones in the Sahara

Source:  The Intercept
February 18 2018

A Massive U.S. Drone Base Could Destabilize Niger — and May Even Be Illegal Under Its Constitution

drones in the sahara.jpg

LATE IN THE morning of October 4 last year, a convoy of Nigerien and American special forces soldiers in eight vehicles left the village of Tongo Tongo. As they made their way between mud-brick houses with thatched roofs, they were attacked from one side by dozens of militants, if not hundreds. Outnumbered and outgunned, the Nigeriens and Americans fled, some on foot, running for cover behind trees and clusters of millet, their boots caked in the light brown earth. By the time the fighting was over, five Nigeriens and four Americans were killed, their bodies left naked in the bush after the militants took their uniforms.

The news went straight to the front pages in the United States and sparked a conflict between the family of one of the soldiers and President Donald Trump, after the president made insensitive remarks during a condolence call to the soldier’s widow. But the story also spread like wildfire throughout Niger, where the big news wasn’t so much that American soldiers had been killed, but that Americans soldiers were fighting in the country in the first place.

“I was surprised to learn that Americans had died in the Tongo Tongo attack,” Soumana Sanda, the leader of an opposition party in the Nigerien Parliament and taekwondo champion, told me in an interview in his pristine and sparsely decorated office in Niamey, the country’s quiet capital on the banks of the Niger River. “That was the moment I found out, as a Nigerien, as a member of parliament, as a representative of the people, that there is indeed (an American) base with ground operations.”

It was the same on the street. Moussa, a middle-aged man who sells children’s textbooks and novels on a busy corner in Niamey, captured the feelings of many I talked with. “We were surprised,” he said. “For us, this is another form of colonization.” Out of apprehension that he could get in trouble for voicing his views openly, he declined to give his last name.

US building a $110 million drone base in Niger

In fact, U.S. Special Operations forces have been in Niger since at least 2013 and are stationed around the country on forward operating bases with elite Nigerien soldiers. What happened in Tongo Tongo is just a taste of the potential friction and instability to come, because the pièce de resistance of American military engagement in Niger is a $110 million drone base the U.S. is building about 450 miles northeast of Niamey in Agadez, a city that for centuries has served as a trade hub on the southern edge of the Sahara Desert, not far from Mali, Algeria, Libya and Chad. In January, I hopped aboard an aging plane that followed a roundabout route to one of America’s largest-ever military investments in Africa, its latest battleground in an opaque, expensive, and counterintuitive war on the continent.

drone base aerial view.jpgAerial view of the American drone base in Agadez, Niger, on June 4, 2017.
Photo: Google Earth

FLYING INTO AGADEZ requires a tour around Niger’s countryside. I boarded a 30-year-old Fokker 50 propeller plane that is owned by Palestinian Airlines and leased to state-owned Niger Airlines with a Palestinian crew. After stopping in the southern cities of Zinder and Maradi, we descended on Agadez, its rectangles and triangles of compounds and dirt roads forming a mosaic, with the surrounding reddish beige of the desert stretching out in all directions as far as the eye can see.

On the southeast edge of the civilian airport, accessible by tracks in the sand used mainly to exit the town, is Nigerien Air Base 201, or in common parlance “the American base.” The base, scheduled for completion in late 2018, is technically the property of the Nigerien military, though it is paid for, built, and operated by Americans. It is being constructed on land formerly used by Tuareg cattle-herders. So far, there is one large hangar, ostensibly where the drones could be housed, a runway under construction, and dozens of smaller structures where soldiers live and work.

The air strip will be large enough for both C-17 transport planes and MQ-9 Reaper armed drones, as The Intercept’s Nick Turse found out in 2016. A Nigerien military commander with direct knowledge of the base, who asked not to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the press, told me that it will be mainly used to surveil militants like Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, Al Mourabitoun, Movement for Oneness and Jihad in West Africa, and local Islamic State affiliates including Boko Haram, which operate in border zones in neighboring countries. The U.S. currently flies drones out of an airport in Niamey, but those operations will be shifted to Agadez once the new base is completed.

American Special Forces operate separately from the drone base, which is run by the Air Force. The Green Berets are on the ground “training” Niger’s special forces and carrying out capture missions with them from the outposts of Ouallam near the Malian border, Aguelal near the Algerian border, Dirkou along the main transport routes between Niger and Libya, and Diffa, along the southeastern border with Nigeria and Chad, according to the same Nigerien commander. I’ve actually seen them at the Diffa base, a prominent local journalist has seen them at Dirkou, and I spoke to a person who worked at the Aguelal base.

When asked to confirm the American presence in those areas of Niger, U.S. Africa Command spokesperson Samantha Reho replied, “I cannot provide a detailed breakdown of the locations of our service members in Niger due to force protection and operational security limitations. With that said, I can confirm there are approximately 800 Department of Defense personnel (military, civilian, and contractor) currently working in Niger, making that country the second-highest concentration of DoD people across the continent, with the first being in Djibouti at Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa.”

The U.S. is just one of several Western militaries that have established and strengthened military ties to Niger over the past few years. France has had soldiers in the country since 2013, when it launched Opération Serval in neighboring Mali. In 2015, France reopened a colonial fort in Madama, close to the border with Libya — unthinkable during the times of Moammar Gadhafi; the Libyan leader maintained a sphere of influence in the region that would have been at odds with a French military presence. Germany sent its own troops in Niger to support the United Nations peacekeeping mission across the border in Mali, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel even visited Niger in 2017. And Italy recently announced it would send 470 troops to a French base in the north of Niger to fight migrant transporters.

sugarcane vendors in niger.jpgSugarcane vendors stand outside during a ceremony at a police station in Agadez, Niger, Jan. 15, 2018.   Photo: Joe Penney

Read full article here

From Niger to Somalia, U.S. Military Expansion in Africa Helps Terror Groups Recruit

Source: Democracy Now

From Niger to Somalia, U.S. Military Expansion in Africa Helps Terror Groups Recruit

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Related: 

“The U.S. Will Invade West Africa in 2023 After an Attack in New York—According to Pentagon War Game” (The Intercept)

“The US is waging a massive shadow war in Africa” (Vice)

Transcript 

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, to talk more about U.S. operations on the African continent, we’re joined by reporter Nick Turse. He’s a fellow at The Nation Institute, a contributing writer at The Intercept, where his latest stories are headlined “It’s Not Just Niger—U.S. Military Activity is a ‘Recruiting Tool’ for Terror Groups Across West Africa,” also his piece “The U.S. Will Invade West Africa in 2023 After an Attack in New York—According to Pentagon War Game,” and at Vice, his latest piece, “The U.S. is waging a massive shadow war in Africa.” He’s the author of the book Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa and his latest book, Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan.

Nick, welcome back to Democracy Now!

NICK TURSE: Thanks for having me on.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s begin in South Sudan. Why did Nikki Haley go there? Talk about the protest that occurred there.

NICK TURSE: Sure. Nikki Haley was dispatched there basically as a result of a speech last month that President Trump gave to African leaders at the United Nations. It was a very tone-deaf speech, where he, in fact, lauded the achievements of an African country that doesn’t exist—Nambia. But in the speech, he also mentioned that there were conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo and especially South Sudan that needed tending to, that he was dispatching Haley to do something about it. What it was was never exactly clear. She was on something of a fact-finding mission.

She met with South Sudanese refugees in Ethiopia. And then, as you mentioned, she went to one of these protection of civilian sites in South Sudan, where there have been, you know, internal—internally displaced people basically stranded there for years, since the civil war broke out in 2013. And things got heated, and she was escorted out of the camp.

AMY GOODMAN: So, explain the situation in South Sudan.

NICK TURSE: Sure. In December of 2013, the president of South Sudan, Salva Kiir, launched a ethnic cleansing campaign in the capital city, Juba.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s one of the newest countries in the world.

NICK TURSE: Yes, it’s the youngest nation on Earth. And this was, in many ways, a U.S. nation-building project. The United States spent somewhere around $11 billion bringing South Sudan into nationhood. The South Sudanese fought for and died for their independence, but the United States was really the backer of this project. And it all fell apart in 2013. The country has been in a state of civil war since then. And the government has been carrying out ethnic cleansing campaigns across the nation.

AMY GOODMAN: Against who?

NICK TURSE: It started out as campaigns against the Nuer, which is the largest of the ethnic minorities. This is carried out by, as I said, President Salva Kiir, who’s a member of the Dinka, who are the largest ethnic group in the country. Since then, the civil war has spread. And most recently, it’s been affecting the deep south of South Sudan, the Equatoria region, where there are somewhere around 10 to 20 ethnic minorities. They’ve been targeted, and they’ve been leaving the country in droves, mostly to Uganda, about a million refugees across the border since the late summer of 2016.

Now, Nikki Haley, when she was in South Sudan, said that President Kiir could not claim that his soldiers weren’t committing these atrocities. But, in fact, that’s what Kiir has been doing for months now. He’s been claiming that fake news and social media drove these people across the border. But I was there earlier this year. I talked to refugees who had left the country. I spoke to people who were displaced in the country. I saw the burned villages. These people ran because of a government-run ethnic cleansing campaign, massacres, murder, village burnings. All this was going on then and goes on today.

AMY GOODMAN: What is the U.S. interest now?

NICK TURSE: Well, yeah, the United States, I think, especially—it was a bipartisan effort, so there are a lot of people in Congress that believe that the United States has an ongoing role to play in South Sudan. What the White House thinks should be done there is very unclear. Before Ambassador Haley left, she was talking tough about cutting off U.S. aid as a way to leverage U.S. power against the government of South Sudan. But since she arrived there, saw the refugees, she said that she now understands that cutting off U.S. aid would hurt the most vulnerable South Sudanese. It’s really an intractable situation, and it’s difficult to figure out exactly what the United States can do and what Nikki Haley’s mandate is.

AMY GOODMAN: On Tuesday, the U.S. ambassador to the U.N., Nikki Haley, visited Gambela in western Ethiopia, where nearly 350,000 refugees flooded across the border from South Sudan amidst the country’s civil war.

NIKKI HALEY: This is an international crisis. This is not just Ethiopia’s problem. This is an international crisis. And when you look at the thousands of people here and you see that they’re supposed to have one health clinic for 10,000 people, and there’s 86,000 people in one clinic, it’s wrong. I mean, they’re trying to make ends meet by, you know, working off of food shortages, but at some point you have to look and say, “No one deserves to live like this.”

AMY GOODMAN: Haley said the United States is considering how to pressure South Sudan’s president, Salva Kiir, into peace, but said withdrawing aid may not work. Nick Turse?

NICK TURSE: Yes. You know, this is the quandary the United States has been in. At one time, they were giving South Sudan millions and millions of dollars for their military, to train politicians there, technocrats. Now it’s been reduced basically to aid. And, you know, that’s the leverage the United States has. But cutting that off means that so many people in need will be without.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to Nick Turse, who is the author of several books on Africa, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa and his latest book, Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. We’ll talk about the United States presence throughout Africa—6,000 U.S. troops, it’s believed—and what the U.S. was doing in Niger, where the U.S. special ops forces and as well as five Nigerien troops were killed. Stay with us.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: “Africa Dream Again” by Youssou N’Dour. This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we talk about the U.S. presence in Africa. I want to turn to Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. He spoke to reporters last week after a meeting with Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who said the military is shifting its counterterrorism strategy to focus more on Africa.

SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM: The counterterrorism rules under President Obama, I thought, were overly restrictive. They denied us the ability to basically engage the enemy effectively and aggressively. The war is morphing. You’re going to see more actions in Africa, not less. You’re going to see more aggression by the United States toward our enemies, not less. You’re going to have decisions being made not in the White House, but out in the field. And I support that entire construct.

AMY GOODMAN: For more, we continue our conversation with Nick Turse. He’s the author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa; his latest book, Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. Respond to what Lindsey Graham has said. Talk about what the U.S. is doing in Africa.

NICK TURSE: Well, the U.S. is doing a lot in Africa. He talked about restrictions during the Obama era, but this was an era of major expansion, which, this past year, has, I have to say, jumped to another level. U.S. troops are now conducting, according to the commander of U.S. Africa Command, 3,500 exercises, programs and engagements per year. So that’s nearly 10 missions per day on the African continent, something that I think that most Americans are completely unaware of. I think Lindsey Graham states that he was unaware of the extent of this activity. So it’s a massive increase of late. When AFRICOM began, it was running about 172 exercises and missions per year. So this is almost a 2,000 percent rise in U.S. military activity on the Africa continent.

And this runs counter to what AFRICOM was originally sold as to the American people and to the world at large, that it would be something like the Peace Corps in camouflage, that there would be humanitarian operations, building of orphanages and digging of wells, that sort of thing. But it’s a fully militarized U.S. geographic combatant command, where you have troops running missions that, you know, are often sold as training and advisory, and done in a training and advisory capacity, but really are indistinguishable from combat.

AMY GOODMAN: I mean, the discussion this week on Capitol Hill, we keep hearing many senators talking about giving more money to the U.S. military, that the death of the four Special Forces soldiers in Niger means the U.S. needs more money and that Africa is the place where, you know, the U.S. military action will be focused. Now, your story, one of them that you wrote, “It’s Not Just Niger—U.S. Military Activity is a ‘Recruiting Tool’ for Terror Groups Across West Africa,” explain.

NICK TURSE: Yes. This is something that a number of experts told me, that, you know, the United States has been pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into counterterror programs since just after 9/11 in West Africa—Niger, Mali, Mauritania, this entire region. The idea was to make this region a bulwark against terrorism. The thinking just after 9/11 was that weak states, fragile governments, ungoverned spaces, these were places that terror groups could proliferate.

But at the time, the United States didn’t recognize any transnational terror groups in the region. After all this U.S. activity, after running one special ops mission after another, year after year, now there are a proliferation of terror groups all across that region—depending on how you count them, maybe six to 10, including the Islamic State in the Greater Sahara, which is the group that reportedly conducted this ambush that killed the four American Green Berets.

AMY GOODMAN: Not all of them were Green Berets, but they were Special Forces. On that issue of these Special Forces, 800 soldiers in Niger? What is the drone base? Why was it being built there?

NICK TURSE: Well, in 2013, the United States began drone operations there, a hundred U.S. personnel dispatched to Niamey, the capital of Niger. And the base was designed for providing what they call ISR—intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance—over the Niger and the greater West Africa region. Since then, the United States struck a deal with Niger to build a much larger base in the town of Agadez. U.S. Africa Command says that this is—they call it something like a temporary contingency location, which sounds like an airstrip with a couple tents around it. But declassified secret documents that I obtained show that this is a $100 million drone base that they’re building.

They chose Niger, these documents say, because the government there was open to them bringing in MQ-9 Reaper drones, which are the larger, newer variant of the Predator drone, a potentially much more lethal drone package. Originally, these were supposed to be carrying out, again, ISR missions, reconnaissance, surveillance. But now, in the wake of this attack, there’s a major push on to arm these drones and have them fly over the region. And this was something else that I also saw in the documents. Niger was the only country in the region that was open to having armed drones based there.

AMY GOODMAN: And both the U.S. and France are active there.

NICK TURSE: Yes. This is because of the collapse of Niger’s neighbor, one of its neighbors, Mali. In fact, a U.S.-trained officer, one of these—one of the officers trained in the U.S. counterterror programs after 9/11, overthrew the government of Mali, because there was an insurgency in northern Mali that this officer didn’t think that the government was taking on in the correct way. He proved incompetent at taking on the insurgency, as well. Islamists pushed his army back towards the capital. And there was a real fear that Mali would be overtaken by Islamist rebels. So France intervened, with the backing of the United States. And now France has been stuck in a counterinsurgency there, that seems that it’s also interminable and that the French cannot find a way to extricate themselves from.

AMY GOODMAN: Where else does the U.S. have drone bases across Africa?

NICK TURSE: Well, there are drone bases that pop up all across the continent, and the U.S. builds them and shuts them down depending on need. In the past, they’ve had drone bases in Ethiopia, in Chad, also in Kenya. I think the drone base that—of recent vintage, that’s been most important to the U.S., is in the tiny, sun-baked nation of Djibouti in the Horn of Africa. There’s a major U.S. base there called Camp Lemonnier, but the drone base is a satellite facility. It’s called Chabelley Airfield. And the United States has run missions there that target the African continent. Also they run drone missions that fly to Yemen. And then it was used for engagements against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, as well. It’s a very important, centrally located drone base.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you have 6,000 U.S. troops. Do you think that’s the correct number?

NICK TURSE: I think, on any given day, there’s somewhere between 5,000 and 8,000 U.S. troops on the continent, depending on the missions that are going on at the time, because troops cycle in and out. But 6,000 is a reasonable number.

AMY GOODMAN: In some, what, 50 countries in Africa.

NICK TURSE: Yeah. The United States is in somewhere around 49 or so African countries, at least over the last couple years. They’re conducting training missions, exercises and, in some cases, you know, commando raids and drone strikes.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to turn to Professor Horace Campbell, currently spending a year in West Africa as the Kwame Nkrumah chair at the Institute of African Studies at the University of Ghana, a peace and justice scholar and professor of African American studies and political science at Syracuse University. He spoke on Democracy Now! earlier this week about forces—about U.S. forces in Africa.

HORACE CAMPBELL: So what we must be clear about to the progressive forces in the United States of America, that neither France nor the United States can have any political legitimacy in Africa, when on the streets of the United States of America fascists are walking around with Nazi flags and police are killing black people. I want to go back to the point that we made at the beginning. United States has no legitimacy for fighting terrorism in Africa, because you cannot fight to defend black lives in Africa when black lives are not important in the United States of America.

AMY GOODMAN: That’s Professor Horace Campbell. Your response to what he says, Nick Turse?

NICK TURSE: Well, he makes a strong point there. And, you know, I might add that—and this is something in my recent pieces—that the United States’s counterterror activities in Africa have seemed to have the opposite effect, in many ways, that, you know, the U.S. was supposed to be building up counterterror capabilities, but we’ve just seen a proliferation of terror groups all across the continent. So, you know, the legitimacy is lacking, and then also the execution of this. It’s really gone counter to what the United States’ aims have been.

AMY GOODMAN: In your piece in The Intercept, the headline is “The U.S. Will Invade West Africa in 2023 After an Attack in New York—According to Pentagon War Game.” What is this war game?

NICK TURSE: It was a war game that was carried out over several weeks last year. The acronym of it was JLASS-SP. And this was conducted by students at the U.S. military’s war colleges. These aren’t, I should say, West Point cadets or something like this. These are generally colonels in the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, some of the best up-and-coming strategic thinkers in the U.S. military, people that will be generals running the wars in the coming years. They ran a very intricate war game, and this was one part of it—but a pivotal part.

The war game posits that there will be a terror attack in New York targeting the Lincoln Tunnel. It will be the largest terror attack since 9/11, the most casualties since then. And it will be carried out by a West African terror group, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb, one of these groups that’s cropped up in the region since 9/11. Because of this attack, the United States decides to invade West Africa, starting in Mauritania. And, you know—and it won’t be a surprise to anyone that’s watched U.S. wars since 9/11 that this quickly becomes a quagmire, that the United States goes in thinking that it’s going to be a short campaign, that we can eliminate the terrorists there and withdraw quickly, but it soon turns into an intractable conflict where the United States has to surge in forces just to maintain its occupation, and there seems to be no way to get out of it.

AMY GOODMAN: And what’s the significance of a Pentagon war game?

NICK TURSE: Well, I mean, this is—it’s not an intelligence estimate, but this is something that shows what the United States is thinking about, where it sees threats coming from, what it sees as the “reasonable,” quote-unquote, U.S. response to it. And this generally is the U.S. response. I could certainly see something like this happening. And the results are chilling, especially given what we’re seeing now—talk coming out of Congress about, you know, increasing U.S. military operations in Africa. It’s a sobering account of what this might mean for all of us, here in America and especially in Africa.

AMY GOODMAN: What about Somalia? So the timeline was what? October 4th, that was the time of the Niger killings, of the ambush of the U.S. and Nigerien forces. Ten days later, October 14, though a lot of people learned about what happened in Niger, and Trump did not reveal what happened in Niger until after Somalia, but 10 days later, this double bombing in the capital, what they’re calling the Mogadishu massacre, over 350 people killed, 400 people wounded. And The Guardian reports that the suspected bomber is from the specific community targeted by a U.S. raid last August in a village near Mogadishu that killed some 10 people, among them children. Can you talk about what’s happening in Somalia and the U.S. presence there?

NICK TURSE: Well, the U.S. has had a long-standing presence in Somalia. This has been one of the places where U.S. counterterror efforts have been at their largest in Africa. You know, it’s cited by some in the government as a success story. Al-Shabab has, in many ways, been pushed back. But, you know, there’s a continuing terror campaign from al-Shabab that doesn’t seem to be able to be solved through military means. But this is—this is the way the United States has chosen to deal with it and chosen to deal with what it considers threats all over the continent, that it’s a sort of a counterterror whack-a-mole exercise.

AMY GOODMAN: What does it mean that Trump called it a so-called zone of active hostilities?

NICK TURSE: Yeah, this allowed for a loosening of bonds on U.S. military activity there. It allows the U.S. to pursue a more vigorous military campaign. And because of that, there’s a much greater chance of civilian casualties and a chance of just continuing the cycle. This is something that experts have told me again and again, that U.S. operations on the continent are, in many ways, fueling terrorism, that these U.S. military operations are causing discontent, and by killing, you know, innocent civilians, that you’re just breeding more terrorists, country after country.

AMY GOODMAN: During a news conference last month, President Trump congratulated African leaders for helping make his friends rich.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Africa has tremendous business potential. I have so many friends going to your countries, trying to get rich. I congratulate you. They’re spending a lot of money.

AMY GOODMAN: “They’re spending a lot of money,” President Trump said. Nick Turse, as we begin to wrap up?

NICK TURSE: Yeah, I think Trump has viewed Africa maybe in two ways, that it’s some sort of transactional economic zone, where the United States can extract and make money, and then, you know, as a theater of war. And, you know, that speech was exceptionally tone-deaf. And it was the first time he had really addressed what his Africa strategy might be. And as you might expect, after those words, it became more and more muddled. It’s very difficult to understand exactly what the Trump administration sees for the future of Africa, and they really haven’t even staffed up with experts on it within the administration, at the State Department. So, it seems to be an ad hoc policy. I think you’ll see a lot more military engagement, especially after Niger. And, you know, I’m not sure about the economic empowerment that Trump’s talking about.

AMY GOODMAN: You talk about the shadow war in Africa. What do you mean?

NICK TURSE: Well, I mean, these campaigns have been going on in Africa for years, but it’s largely unknown to the American people. And when you ask AFRICOM, as I have, about what’s happening on the continent, they’re always talking about training missions, about advisory missions. Well, this is exactly what the mission in Niger was billed as. This was working with local forces in an advisory capacity. But we see that, you know, an advisory or training mission can quickly become combat. And I think that the more U.S. engagement you see, the greater the chance that we’ll have more and more catastrophes like this.

AMY GOODMAN: Is there anything else you want to add that you think people in the United States—certainly, the corporate media hardly focuses on Africa. I mean, when you have, for example, the attack, what they call the Mogadishu massacre, of 358 people dead, almost no attention. Of course, right away, there is a mention of it. But in the aftermath, the devastation, the loss of life. What should people understand across Africa right now and be looking for?

NICK TURSE: Well, you know, I think it’s important to keep an eye on places like South Sudan, which we talked of earlier, Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic. These are places where the United States had a more robust diplomatic effort before, but has—the United States has pulled back, in many ways. And these are places where the United States—the United Nations has warned of potential genocide, of ethnic cleansing campaigns. I think these are stories that are completely under-, and sometimes un-, covered in the United States, but I think they’re places that will be making the news in the future, for all the wrong reasons.

AMY GOODMAN: As President Trump expresses, to say the least, a tremendous bellicose intent in various areas, are you concerned what that will mean as he focuses on Africa?

NICK TURSE: I am. You know, I think that this is the primary U.S. bent on the continent, that, you know, while a country like China has promoted economic engagement, the United States has really seen Africa as a counterterrorism problem. And the way to deal with that, in U.S. thinking, is to deploy more military forces, build more bases, deploy more troops.

AMY GOODMAN: And last question, and this goes to a piece you wrote just a few months ago, looking at what’s happened in Cameroon, “Cameroonian Troops Tortured and Killed Prisoners at Base Used for U.S. Drone [Surveillance].” And this was a report that came out by Amnesty International.

NICK TURSE: Yes, I worked with The Intercept, Amnesty International and a group called Forensic Architecture. And what we found was that there’s a small—one of several small U.S. bases in Cameroon, or a Cameroonian base where the United States has an intermittent military presence and U.S. contractors are flying drones. On the same base, Cameroonian forces were torturing and sometimes even killing prisoners, people that were suspected of supporting Boko Haram but, in most cases, were completely innocent and had no ties to the group. This is—you know, one, it’s illegal. Two, it’s building discontent in Cameroon. And it’s just—

AMY GOODMAN: This is at a U.S. base for drone surveillance—I said “strikes” before, but surveillance?

NICK TURSE: Surveillance. It was a—there are U.S. contractors who are flying drones out of this base, and then U.S. special operations forces that cycle in and out to work with—as this is another training mission for U.S. troops. But, you know, our allies are committing gross atrocities on a large scale. And this doesn’t go unnoticed by people in Cameroon. People in the United States don’t know about it, but we might know about the backlash to it in the coming years.

AMY GOODMAN: And this just happened today: Three U.N. peacekeepers from Chad were killed, and two others injured, when their logistics convoy was attacked in northern Mali, this according to the United Nations. The U.N. Security Council condemned the attack on the road. The 12,000-strong U.N. peacekeeping mission in Mali has become the most dangerous in the world, as Islamic militants routinely attack U.N. convoys across the north. Mali, of course, a neighbor of Niger.

NICK TURSE: Yes. You know, this is what I was talking about. After the U.S.-trained officer, Captain Sanogo, overthrew the government in Mali, it really destabilized the entire country. And because of that, in the north and even in the central part of the country, there have been militant groups operating ever since. They’ve really carved out strongholds. So, you have French and African forces, backed by the United States, conducting counterterror campaigns. But this is an ongoing insurgency, and it shows no sign of slowing.

AMY GOODMAN: Nick Turse, I want to thank you for being with us. We’re going to link to all of your pieces with different news organizations. Nick Turse is fellow at The Nation Institute, author of Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa. His latest book, Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War and Survival in South Sudan. Nick Turse is also a contributing writer at The Intercept.

This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute with Carl Hart. We’ll talk about the national health emergency that President Trump has declared around opioids. Stay with us.

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Why is the US at War in West Africa?

Source:  “Information Clearing House“/ wsws.org
October 15 2017

By Eddie Haywood

American military operations throughout the African continent have been conducted almost entirely in secret

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The October 4 killings of four US Green Berets in Niger has provided a rare glimpse into the far-reaching American military operations throughout the African continent which have been conducted almost entirely in secret.

Pentagon officials on Friday told reporters that the ambush was carried out by a self-radicalized group supposedly affiliated with ISIS. The Pentagon additionally admitted that at least 29 patrols similar to the one that was fatally ambushed have been carried out by American soldiers in Niger.

According to AFRICOM, the US military command based in Stuttgart, Germany, the US special forces deployed to Niger are tasked with providing training, logistics, and intelligence to assist the Nigerien military in fighting militants affiliated with Al-Qaeda in Mali and Boko Haram in neighboring Nigeria. AFRICOM has officially stated that its forces interact with the Nigerien army in a “non-combat advisory” capacity.

US military forces arrayed across the continent taking on the character of an occupying army

The circumstances surrounding the ambush which resulted in the deaths of the four Green Berets expose AFRICOM’s claim of non-engagement as a lie. The killings occurred during a joint patrol of elite American soldiers and Nigerien forces in a remote hostile region on the border with Mali known for frequent raids conducted by Islamist militants. Some 800 US commandos are deployed to bases in Niamey and Agadez making quite clear the offensive role that the American military is playing in Niger.

Underlining the incident is Niger’s configuration in Washington’s imperialist offensive across Africa. The expanding levels of US military forces arrayed across the continent have increasingly taken on the character of an occupying army. According to the Pentagon, there are a total of 1,000 American troops in the vicinity of the Chad River Basin which includes northern Niger, Chad, and the Central African Republic. An additional 300 troops are stationed to the south in Cameroon.

Related:  AFRICOM’s Secret Empire: US Military Turns Africa Into ‘Laboratory’ Of Modern Warfare

After its establishment in 2008 as an independent command, AFRICOM has significantly expanded American military influence and troop deployments on the African continent. Measuring the breadth of US military expansion is the construction of a $100 million base in Agadez in central Niger, from which the US Air Force conducts regular surveillance drone flights across the Sahel region.

Augmenting the special forces contingent in the region are military personnel stationed at several dozen bases and outposts including a US base in Garoua, Cameroon.

The genesis in 1980

The special operations units in Africa have their genesis in 1980, after the Pentagon created Special Operations Command (SOCOM) to conduct a raid on the US embassy in Tehran, Iran to rescue American hostages. Over the years, SOCOM has vastly broadened its scope, and currently has forces stationed on every continent around the globe.

Made up of various units of the US military, including Green Berets, Delta Force, and Navy Seals, SOCOM carry out a broad spectrum of offensive operations including assassinations, counter-terrorism, reconnaissance, psychological operations, and foreign troop training. Under AFRICOM, these forces form a subgroup of SOCOM designated as Special Operations Command in Africa (SOCAFRICA).

A 2000 per cent increase and the renewed scramble for Africa under Obama

Between 2006 and 2010 the deployment of US special forces troops in Africa increased 300 per cent. However, from 2010 to 2017 the numbers of deployed troops exploded by nearly 2000 per cent, occupying more than 60 outposts tasked with carrying out over 100 missions at any given moment across the continent.

The scale of the military expansion which began in earnest under the Obama administration is part of a renewed “scramble for Africa”, comprised of a reckless drive for economic dominance over Africa’s vast economic resources which threatens to transform the entire continent into a battlefield.

The immediate roots of the Niger ambush

The immediate roots of the Niger ambush can be traced to the 2011 US/NATO war in Libya which resulted in the removal and assassination of Libya’s leader Muammar Gaddafi. Under the Obama administration, Washington cultivated and armed various Islamist militant groups with ties to Al-Qaeda as a proxy force to carry out its aim of regime change. The resulting US/NATO bombardment left Libyan society in shambles, and the Islamist fighters spilled forth and out across North Africa and south to the Sahel.

In 2012, as a consequence of a US and French backed coup against the government in Bamako, Tuareg rebels in Northern Mali took advantage of the chaos resulting from the coup to stage a rebellion. After the Tuareg militants began taking control over cities and territory as it cut deeper into southern Mali, France with the Obama administrations backing deployed 4,000 troops to the country to neutralize the Tuareg rebels, eventually stabilizing the government it placed in Bamako.

While the Tuareg rebellion may have been halted by the US-backed French offensive, Islamist fighters from Libya were pouring into Mali, with many taking up arms against the Western backed puppet government. The Islamist fighters largely united into one large group, declaring allegiance to Al-Qaeda in the Maghreb (AQIM). The military forces of Niger and Chad which participated in the US/French intervention in Mali have become frequent targets by the Islamist militants who began conducting cross-border raids and launched attacks on patrols and garrisons.

Transforming West Africa into a battlefield is the end result of Washington’s works

The rise of these warring Islamist militias which have transformed West Africa into a battlefield is the end result of Washington’s decades-long strategy in cultivating these forces as a proxy army in its wars for regime change, at first, in the Middle East and Afghanistan, and subsequently in Africa.

Underscoring France’s military deployment are the French economic interests it seeks to protect not only Mali, but throughout West Africa, the region which was once part of its colonial empire. In Niger, the French energy giant Arven has established mining operations extracting the country’s rich uranium resources.

For its part, Washington has enlisted the participation of the military forces of Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Nigeria, Niger, Chad, and Mali in its drive for dominance of the Sahel and West Africa, with all of these countries featuring US outposts or bases.

Washington’s military expansion in response to China’s economic influence

A key element of Washington’s military expansion in the region are the significant economic resources that it aims to secure for American corporate interests. On behalf of these interests, and complimentary to its military operation, Washington has constructed a $300 million embassy in Niamey.

Washington’s military interventions in Africa must also be seen as an effort to offset China’s growing economic influence on the continent. Beijing in recent years has secured investment deals with African governments in nearly every sector of Africa’s economy.

China National Petroleum Company (CNPC) purchased the permit for oil drilling in Niger’s Agadem Basin, and CNPC also constructed and operates the Soraz refinery near Zinder, Niger’s second largest city. Deals by Beijing for the construction of pipelines traversing through Chad, Niger, Burkina Faso, and Cameroon are currently in the development stage, causing no small amount of consternation in Washington.

This article was originally published by WSWS 

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