Africa: US flexes its military muscle/ FRFI 230 Dec 2012/Jan 2013

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FRFI 230 December 2012/January 2013

The US is increasing its military presence in Africa, under cover of the so-called ‘war on terror’ or humanitarian pretexts. Recent events, including the 2011 bombings of Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, and the planned attack on Mali, confirm this increasing militarisation which reflects the imperialists’ determination to control strategic raw materials in Africa, a region endowed with significant amounts of fossil fuels and mineral resources.

Africom

In June, Major General David Hogg, head of US Army Africa, announced a ‘pilot programme’ of a brigade of 3,000 US soldiers to deploy to Africa in 2013 for multiple missions at different locations. US Army Africa is a component of Africom (US Africa Command), set up in 2007 to begin a process of turning the continent into a web of US bases. Fourteen major Africom military exercises were scheduled for 2012. Over the past decade the US has maintained a rising number of troops at Camp Lemonnier, a training and logistics hub in Djibouti, where Africom’s Combined Joint Task ForceHorn of Africa (CJTF-HOA) is based. The US wants to ‘maintain a small footprint on the continent that is flexible and low cost...[and] will be different in each African nation’ said Amanda Dory, US deputy assistant secretary of defense for African affairs (12 October 2012).

In February 2008, Robert Moeller, a US Navy vice admiral and the first deputy to the Commander for Military Operations of Africom, stated that ‘protecting the free flow of natural resources from Africa to the global market is one of Africom’s guiding principles.’ Africom spokesman Pat Barnes admitted: ‘Africom has a small and temporary presence of personnel [in] several locations in Africa’, with approximately 5,000 US military and Department of Defense personnel based there at any one time.

US Marines, military contractors, British and French military personnel have been training soldiers in combat skills, house-to-house fighting, marksmanship, urban warfare and explosives handling in Uganda under the auspices of the ‘Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance Program’. US Marines African presence ‘could become more commonplace as troop levels in Afghanistan drop in line with an approaching 2014 combat mission end date’. 77 US Marines are currently in Mozambique as part of an ‘Africa Partnership Station’ mission, and in April 2012, 1,200 US Marines led the annual bilateral ‘African Lion’ military exercise in Morocco.

In November 2011, ten Special Forces units entered Nigeria to ‘hunt Boko Haram terrorists’. Nigeria is Africa’s largest and the US’s fourth largest oil supplier. In October 2011, the US sent 100 ‘combat-equipped military advisers’ to help ‘suppress the rebels’ of Uganda’s Lord’s Resistance Army’ to operate in Uganda, South Sudan, Central African Republic (CAR) and DRC.

US interference in Asia started with the sending of ‘military advisers’ to Vietnam to assist France in the First Indochina War in the 1950s. By 1975, they had killed over seven million people. In March the EU also announced it would also send a contingent of 5,000 soldiers, led by Ugandan, South Sudanese, CAR and DRC officers to hunt down LRA leader Joseph Kony, whose exact whereabouts remain unknown.

Lily pads

In addition to a ‘continuum of training and maintenance capacity building’ of African armies (General William Ward, commander of Africom), the US has quietly created about a dozen air bases for drones and surveillance since 2007. In addition to Camp Lemonnier the US has created or will soon create bases in Burkina Faso, Burundi, CAR, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mauritania, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, South Sudan, and Uganda. The US has also investigated building bases in Algeria, Nigeria and in other West African nations: ‘A new generation of bases the military calls “lily pads” are small, secretive, inaccessible facilities with limited numbers of troops, spartan amenities, and prepositioned weaponry and supplies.’1 These secluded, strategically located and self-contained outposts are a critical part of an evolving US military strategy aimed at maintaining global dominance.

The US base in Sao Tome and Principe in the Gulf of Guinea in West Africa is to be another Diego Garcia, used to control Middle East oil. This growing collection of ‘lily pads’ in Africa is an attempt to control another crucial oil-rich region. US imperialism intends to bind African countries to continued US imperialist hegemony, entrench their influence and keep at bay the EU, China and other rising powers.

Since at least 2009, the practice of hiring private companies to spy on huge expanses of African territory has been a cornerstone of the US military’s secret activities on the continent, and consists of contractors flying from Entebbe airport in Uganda and other East African airfields. ‘They pilot turbo-prop planes that look innocuous but are packed with sophisticated surveillance gear’, (Craig Whitlock, Washington Post, 15 June 2012). US drones are being flown out of Arba Minch airport, also in Ethiopia, from the Seychelles Islands in the Indian Ocean, and from Camp Lemonnier by the US military and the CIA to bomb political opponents in Yemen and Somalia. Surveillance planes used for spy missions over West Africa and the Sahara desert fly from Burkina Faso, a key hub of the secret US spying network in West Africa.2 The others are Uganda, Ethiopia and the Seychelles from where ‘hunter-killer’ drones fly over Somalia.

In addition, what are ostensibly African ‘trade’ blocs like the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development have provided African cover for US and French imperialist designs in Africa and their roles will deepen in the coming period.

US imperialism vs French imperialism

In April 2011, France re-established control in Côte d’Ivoire. 3,000 people were killed in the process. Now the Ivorian economy is reserved primarily for French companies. In October 2012, the EU announced that it will send 150 military trainers to Mali in West Africa; France ordered UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon and the African Union to submit ‘detailed and actionable recommendations’ within 45 days for military intervention. Germany will train Malian troops and provide logistical support. After the US ‘conferred to us the role of leader’, France is to redeploy two surveillance drones from Afghanistan. There are hundreds of French troops and Special Forces in Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Chad and Gabon. The US has expanded its satellite and spy flights and has Special Forces secretly deployed in Mali.

US Army Africa says its role is to teach medicine, combat famine, disease and terrorism, quell regional violence, assist sick and injured Africans and feed the famished in East Africa (armytimes.com, 8 June 2012). Why send soldiers to ‘assist the sick and feed the famished’? The idea that the imperialists’ presence in Africa is to counter terrorism is bogus, seeing as they are collaborating with some Al Qaida-linked groups in Libya and Syria. The record of US- and British-trained armies – for example in Uganda and Rwanda – is one of invasions, annexations, genocide and plunder of natural resources. As French imperialism remains a powerful force in strategic areas of West Africa, and China and the EU are increasing their investments in Africa, the US is asserting its military muscle, determined to assert hegemonic dominance, especially with the Middle East in turmoil.

1. David Vine, TomDispatch.com, 15 July 2012.

2. Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com, 12 July 2012.

Charles Chinweizu