From Guernica – The Pivot to Africa. The US [AFRICOM] claims it has a limited military presence in Africa with just one military base in Djibouti however when each small ‘footprints’ is counted, we see the whole is alarmingly expansive.
The proof is in the details—a seemingly ceaseless string of projects, operations, and engagements. Each mission, as AFRICOM insists, may be relatively limited and each footprint might be “small” on its own, but taken as a whole, U.S. military operations are sweeping and expansive. Evidence of an American pivot to Africa is almost everywhere on the continent. Few, however, have paid much notice.
If the proverbial picture is worth a thousand words, then what’s a map worth? Take, for instance, the one created by TomDispatch that documents U.S. military outposts, construction, security cooperation, and deployments in Africa. It looks like a field of mushrooms after a monsoon. U.S. Africa Command recognizes 54 countries on the continent, but refuses to say in which ones (or even in how many) it now conducts operations. An investigation by TomDispatch has found recent U.S. military involvement with no fewer than 49 African nations.
In some, the U.S. maintains bases, even if under other names. In others, it trains local partners and proxies to battle militants ranging from Somalia’s al-Shabab and Nigeria’s Boko Haram to members of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb. Elsewhere, it is building facilities for its allies or infrastructure for locals. Many African nations are home to multiple U.S. military projects. Despite what AFRICOM officials say, a careful reading of internal briefings, contracts, and other official documents, as well as open source information, including the command’s own press releases and news items, reveals that military operations in Africa are already vast and will be expanding for the foreseeable future.
The US strategy has been to open small units or bases which initially appear small scale and then expand their usage so for example the military base in Niger was initially set up to deploy one predator drone. Now it is being used to deploy larger multiple drones on a daily basis. Another example is the military base at Entebbe, Uganda which in 2009 was just a ‘barebones compound’ with a few aircraft. Now it is a much larger complex with fleets of helicopters and aircraft.
AFRICOM also provides a massive role for private military contractors such Berry Aviation who provide “Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance” services…
In July, Berry Aviation, a Texas-based longtime Pentagon contractor, was awarded a nearly $50 million contract to provide aircraft and personnel for “Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing services.” Under the terms of the deal, Berry will “perform casualty evacuation, personnel airlift, cargo airlift, as well as personnel and cargo aerial delivery services throughout the Trans-Sahara of Africa,” according to a statement from the company. Contracting documents indicate that Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, and Tunisia are the “most likely locations for missions.”
At present the US has agreements to use 29 international airports in Africa for refueling which technically at least can be interpreted as the US having a foothold in each of these countries in addition to all other bases and or training facilities.
When the US presence in Africa is placed side by side with the expansion in the Pacific – the Pacific Pivot, and the Middle East we begin to see the true picture of US globalized militarization which includes bases in all four corners of the world. The frame now is no longer that of outreach policeman, but of grand patriarch and protector of the homeland – of the women and the children, a horrible heteronationalism led by a black saviour astride a white horse.
It’s not hard to imagine why the U.S. military wants to maintain that “small footprint” fiction. On occasion, military commanders couldn’t have been clearer on the subject. “A direct and overt presence of U.S. forces on the African continent can cause consternation… with our own partners who take great pride in their post-colonial abilities to independently secure themselves,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere earlier this year in the military trade publication Special Warfare. Special Operations Forces, he added, “must train to operate discreetly within these constraints and the cultural norms of the host nation.”
On a visit to the Pentagon earlier this summer, AFRICOM’s Rodriguez echoed the same point in candid comments to Voice of America: “The history of the African nations, the colonialism, all those things are what point to the reasons why we should… just use a small footprint.”
And yet, however useful that imagery may be to the Pentagon, the U.S. military no longer has a small footprint in Africa. Even the repeated claims that U.S. troops conduct only short-term. intermittent missions there has been officially contradicted. This July, at a change of command ceremony for Naval Special Warfare Unit 10, a spokesman noted the creation and implementation of “a five-year engagement strategy that encompassed the transition from episodic training events to regionally-focused and persistent engagements in five Special Operations Command Africa priority countries.”
Though Nick Turse’s article doesn’t comment on land and water grab, mineral resources, oil etc, it seems to me that it is important to at least ask how US militarism in Africa and the Pacific facilitates corporate America’s involvement with all of these issues and ultimately what is the purpose of the massive presence in these regions if not to protect these interests?
Key to the Map of the U.S. Military’s Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013
Green markers: U.S. military training, advising, or tactical deployments during 2013
Yellow markers: U.S. military training, advising, or tactical deployments during 2012
Purple marker: U.S. “security cooperation”
Red markers: Army National Guard partnerships
Blue markers: U.S. bases, forward operating sites (FOSes), contingency security locations (CSLs), contingency locations (CLs), airports with fueling agreements, and various shared facilities
Green push pins: U.S. military training/advising of indigenous troops carried out in a third country during 2013
Yellow push pins: U.S. military training/advising of indigenous troops carried out in a third country during 2012