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Friday, October 28, 2011

The US in Africa

With the US announcing that 100 troops will be sent to help combat the Lord's Resistance Army, Gary K. Busch unpacks the history of US intervention in Africa - and points to recent oil discoveries in East Africa as the real reason for the military intervention.

US President Barack Obama said on Friday 14 October 2011 that 100 troops would help Uganda track down Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebel chief Joseph Kony and other senior LRA leaders. This is interesting, indeed, but it is not news. The US has been among those who have been fighting LRA for over 15 years without any discernible success. The fight against the LRA has brought together in the US Congress a consensus from all wings of the political process - from one extreme to the other. The legislation was sponsored by Senators John McCain and Russ Feingold and involved almost every humanitarian NGO and outraged citizen groups arrayed against the depredations of the LRA.

The US has a very poor track record in attacking the LRA. An earlier US military co-involvement with Uganda's army - Operation Lighting Thunder - in December 2008, was a disastrous failure, leading to additional massacres of Congolese civilians. There's not a single place in Africa where US military intervention has resulted in a favourable resolution and restoration of peace and stability. It is not for the want of trying.

There are around 2,500 service personnel permanently stationed at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. The Camp supports approximately 2,500 US, joint and allied forces military and civilian personnel and US Department of Defense contractors. Additionally, the base provides employment for approximately 1,200 local and third country nation workers. Camp Lemonnier provides, operates and sustains and supports regional and combatant command requirements; and enables operations in the Horn of Africa and nearby.

  • There are around 320 additional Special Forces personnel operating in West Africa, including three teams in the Niger Delta. 
  • The upsurge of Boko Haram violence in Northern Nigeria has attracted more. 
  • Others are working, with the Marines, in training exercises across Africa. 
  • There are three 'Psychops' groups operating in East Africa, especially in Kenya's Northeast Frontier. 
This is in addition to scores of private military corporations (like Dyncorp or the several companies formed by retired US brass).


The US is at war in Africa. It has been at war as an integral part of the Cold War. It has had practical experience in African wars. America has been fighting wars in Africa since the 1950s - in Angola, the DRC, Somalia, the Sudan, Ethiopia, Somalia, Morocco, Libya, Djibouti to name but a few counties. In some countries they used US troops, but in most cases the US financed, armed and supervised the support of indigenous forces. In its support of the anti- MPLA forces in Angola it sent arms and equipment to the UNITA opposition.

In the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Larry Devlin of the CIA was an unofficial Minister of Mobutu's government; the US ran its own air force in the Congo at WIGMO. US airmen supported the South African forces in Kwando, Fort Doppies and Encana bases in the Caprivi from WIGMO. At these bases one could also find soldiers from Southern Rhodesia (in their DC3s) and German, French, Portuguese and other NATO troops.

One of the largest of these bases was at Wheelus Field, in Libya. Wheelus Air Base was located on the Mediterranean coast, just east of Tripoli, Libya. With its 4,600 Americans, the US Ambassador to Libya once called it 'a Little America'. During the Korean War, Wheelus was used by the US Strategic Air Command, later becoming a primary training ground for NATO forces. Strategic Air Command bomber deployments to Wheelus began on 16 November 1950. Wheelus became a vital link in SAC war plans for use as a bomber, tanker refuelling and recon-fighter base. The US left in 1970.

Another giant base was Kagnew Field in Asmara. The base was established in 1943 as an army radio station, home to the US Army's 4th Detachment of the Second Signal Service Battalion. Kagnew Station became home for over 5,000 American citizens at a time during its peak years of operation during the 1960s. Kagnew Station operated until 29 April 1977, when the last Americans left Kagnew Station.

However, with the end of the Cold War, the US has found itself fighting a much more difficult and insidious war; the war with Al Qaida. This is much less of a war that involves military might and prowess. It is a war against the spread of drug dealing, illicit diamonds, illicit gold and the sheltering of Salafists (Islamic militants) who use these methods to acquire cash which has sustained the Al Qaida organisation throughout the world. The political dichotomy between the Muslim North in Africa and the Christian/Animist South is not only a religious conflict. It is a conflict between organised international crime and states seeking to maintain their legitimacy.

There are now several 'narco-states' in Africa. The first to fall was Guinea-Bissau, where scores of Colombian cartel leaders moved in to virtually take over the state. Every day an estimated one tonne of pure Colombian cocaine is thought to be transiting through the mainland's mangrove swamps and the chain of islands that make up Guinea-Bissau, most of it en route to Europe This drug trade is spreading like wildfire in West Africa, offering remuneration to African leaders, generals or warlords well in excess of anything these Africans could hope to earn in normal commerce.

This burgeoning drug business was an offshoot of the political, economic and military connections which were made by Al Qaida in pursuit of their takeover of the 'blood diamond' business in West Africa.

  • During the civil wars in Sierra Leone the Revolutionary United Front ('RUF') took over the diamond fields in the country; initially at Kono. The diamonds were mined by RUF rebels, who became infamous during Sierra Leone's civil war for hacking off the arms and legs of civilians and abducting thousands of children and forcing them to fight as combatants. 
  • The country's alluvial diamond fields, some of the richest in the world, were the principal prize in the civil war, and they were under RUF control for years. 
  • Small packets of diamonds, often wrapped in rags or plastic sheets, were taken by senior RUF commanders across the porous Liberian border to Monrovia, where they were exchanged for briefcases of cash brought by diamond dealers who flew several times a month from Belgium to Monrovia, returning to Pelikaanstraat in Antwerp.

Now the battle is with Al-Qaida in the Maghreb (AQIM) which combines drug and diamond smuggling with terrorist acts. This battle has required a lot of troops on the ground, as advisers and trainers, as well as teams of DEA agents across West Africa.


These are not unique examples. According to a US Congressional Research Service Study[1] published in November 2010, Washington has dispatched anywhere between hundreds and several thousand combat troops, dozens of fighter planes and warships to buttress client dictatorships or to unseat adversarial regimes in dozens of countries, almost on a yearly basis. The record shows that US armed forces intervened in Africa 47 times prior to the current LRA endeavour.[2] The countries suffering one or more US military intervention include the Congo, Zaire, Libya, Chad, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Rwanda, Liberia, Central African Republic, Gabon, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Tanzania, Sudan, Ivory Coast, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Eritrea.

Between the mid 1950's to the end of the 1970's, only four overt military operations were recorded, though large-scale proxy and clandestine military operations were pervasive. Under Reagan-Bush Sr. (1980-1991) military intervention accelerated, rising to eight, not counting the large scale clandestine 'special forces' and proxy wars in Southern Africa. Under the Clinton regime, US militarised intervention in Africa took off. Between 1992 and 2000, 17 armed incursions took place, including a large-scale invasion of Somalia and military backing for the Rwanda genocidal regime. Clinton intervened in Liberia, Gabon, Congo and Sierra Leone to prop up long standing troubled regimes. He bombed the Sudan and dispatched military personnel to Kenya and Ethiopia to back proxy clients assaulting Somalia. Under Bush Jr. 15 US military interventions took place, mainly in Central and East Africa.

Most of US African outreach is disproportionally built on military links to client military chiefs. The Pentagon has military ties with 53 African countries (including Libya prior to the current attack). Washington's efforts to militarise Africa and turn its armies into proxy mercenaries in protecting property and fighting terrorists were accelerated after 9/11.[3]

The Bush Administration announced in 2002 that Africa was a 'strategic priority in fighting terrorism'.[4] Henceforth, US foreign policy strategists, with the backing of both liberal and neoconservative congress people, moved to centralise and coordinate a military policy on a continent wide basis forming the African Command (AFRICOM). The latter organises African armies, euphemistically called 'co-operative partnerships', to conduct neo-colonial wars based on bilateral agreements (Uganda, Burundi, etc.) as well as 'multi-lateral' links with the Organisation of African Unity.[5]

The Rest @ AllAfrica ...

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