AFRiCOM presence in West Africa:Any meaningful outcome?

Boko HaramFor years, the U.S. military has publicly insisted that its efforts in Africa are negligible, intentionally leaving the American people, not to mention most Africans, in the dark about the true size, scale, and scope of its operations. The U.S. Africa Command public affairs personnel and commanders have repeatedly claimed no more than a “light footprint” on the continent. 

They don’t like to talk about military operations.  They offer detailed information about only a tiny fraction of their training exercises.  They refuse to disclose the locations where personnel have been stationed but we can see military MV-22 flyunder capital of Ghana.

On the other hand, the U.S. has been involved in a variety of multinational interventions in Africa, including one in Libya that involved both a secret war and a conventional campaign of missiles and air strikes, assistance to French forces in the Central African Republic and Mali, and the training and funding of African proxies to do battle against militant groups like Boko Haram as well as Somalia’s al-Shabab and Mali’s Ansar al-Dine.  In 2014, the U.S. carried out 674 military activities across Africa, nearly two missions per day, an almost 300 per cent jump in the number of annual operations, exercises and military-to-military training activities since U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) was established in 2008.

Despite this massive increase in missions and a similar swelling of bases, personnel, and funding, the picture painted last month before the Senate Armed Services Committee by AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez was startlingly bleak.  For all the American efforts across Africa, Rodriguez offered a vision of a continent in crisis, imperiled from East to West by militant groups that have developed, grown in strength, or increased their deadly reach in the face of U.S. counterterrorism efforts.

“Transregional terrorists and criminal networks continue to adapt and expand aggressively,” Rodriguez told committee members, adding that “al-Shabab has broadened its operations to conduct, or attempt to conduct, asymmetric attacks against Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and especially Kenya.  Libya-based threats are growing rapidly, including an expanding ISIL presence… Boko Haram threatens the ability of the Nigerian government to provide security and basic services in large portions of the northeast.”

Rodriguez called for a large-scale US-led “counterinsurgency” campaign against groups in West Africa. Rodriguez’s statements are part of a coordinated campaign by the US to massively expand its military operations in the resource-rich region, as it combats the influence of China and other powers.

Weaken and destabilise Nigeria as a nation state of 160 million people, trigger sectarian divisions and then come to the rescue of Nigeria under a humanitarian military banner. The escalation of hostilities by Boko Haram coincides with the decline of the economy due to the collapse of the U.S. trade in oil with Nigeria. In previous years, Nigeria was the largest exporter of oil to the U.S. on the African continent. AFRICOM statements coincided with African Union plans to deploy a 7,500-strong multinational force in the name of fighting Boko Haram and “other extremist groups.”

The AU multinational force will serve as the vehicle for further infiltration of US forces into West Africa, while providing support for and legitimising the already significant US military presence in the strategically crucial, resource region. US Congressional leaders are also pushing for a new war in Nigeria and the surrounding region. Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee Ed Royce was scheduled to meet with the Nigerian ambassador to the US, Ade Adefuye, known to be a strong advocate of US military intervention in Nigeria, according to Nigeria’s the Guardian.

What the Guardian fails to mention is that all these groups, including Boko Haram and the Islamic State, have been, in one way or another, armed, trained and financed by the US-NATO alliance and their allies in the Middle East.

The Nigerian Tribune has reported that Boko Haram receives funding from different groups from Saudi Arabia and the UK, specifically from the Al-Muntada Trust Fund, headquartered in the United Kingdom and Saudi Arabia’s Islamic World Society.

“In North and West Africa, Libyan and Nigerian insecurity increasingly threaten U.S. interests. In spite of multinational security efforts, terrorist and criminal networks are gaining strength and interoperability. Al-Qaeda in the lands of the Islamic Maghreb, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Murabitun, Boko Haram, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and other violent extremist organisations are exploiting weak governance, corrupt leadership, and porous borders across the Sahel and Maghreb to train and move fighters and distribute resources…

The continuing escalation of terrorist activity is in no way beneficial to Africans, but it is marginally helpful to western countries because it provides a convenient excuse for their military forces to not only maintain, but increase their presence on the continent.

While western countries may have some concern about the innocent people harmed by terrorist activities, it is reasonable to believe the real purpose of the build-up of U.S. and European military troops and installations in Africa is to maintain or gain access to oil fields, mines and other natural resources through intimidation, and if necessary, the use of force against anyone who gets in the way.

AFRICOM officers are nowtalking about the possibility of building a string of surveillance outposts along the northern tier of the continent.  And don’t forget how, over the past few years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and airfields have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and –  skipping Chad (where AFRICOM recently built temporary facilities for a special exercise – the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia).

AFRICOM also conducted maritime security exercises including Obangame Express in the Gulf of Guinea, Saharan Express in the waters off Senegal, and three weeks of maritime security training scenarios as part of Phoenix Express 2014, with sailors from numerous countries including Algeria, Italy, Libya, Malta, Morocco, Tunisia and Turkey. Some of such efforts included military training under a “State Partnership Programme” that teams African military forces with U.S. National Guard units and the State Department-funded Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance, or ACOTA.

All of this suggests that the U.S. military is digging in for the long haul in Africa and may be in Ghana too.After more than a decade of increasing efforts, however, there’s little evidence that AFRICOM has the slightest idea how to tip the scales in its own favour in Africa.

By Clement Kpeklitsu

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