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Nick Turse: Tomorrow's Blowback Today?

By       Message Tom Engelhardt     Permalink
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Africa may, at present, be the prime location for the development of proxy warfare, American-style, but it's hardly the only locale where the United States is training indigenous forces to aid U.S. foreign policy aims.  This year, the Pentagon has also ramped up operations in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. 

In Honduras, for example, small teams of U.S. troops are working with local forces to escalate the drug war there. Working out of Forward Operating Base Mocoron and other remote camps, the U.S. military is supporting Honduran operations by way of the methods it honed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  U.S. forces have also taken part in joint operations with Honduran troops as part of a training mission dubbed Beyond the Horizon 2012, while Green Berets have been assisting Honduran Special Operations forces in anti-smuggling operations.  Additionally, an increasingly militarized Drug Enforcement Administration sent a Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team, originally created to disrupt the poppy trade in Afghanistan, to aid Honduras's Tactical Response Team, that country's elite counternarcotics unit. 

The militarization and foreign deployment of U.S. law enforcement operatives was also evident in Tradewinds 2012, a training exercise held in Barbados in June.  There, members of the U.S. military and civilian law enforcement agencies joined with counterparts from Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, to improve cooperation for "complex multinational security operations."

Far less visible have been training efforts by U.S. Special Operations Forces in Guyana, Uruguay, and Paraguay.  In June, special ops troops also took part in Fuerzas Comando, an eight-day "competition" in which the elite forces from 21 countries, including the Bahamas, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Jamaica, Mexico, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, Trinidad and Tobago, and Uruguay, faced-off in tests of physical fitness, marksmanship, and tactical capabilities.

This year, the U.S. military has also conducted training exercises in Guatemala, sponsored "partnership-building" missions in the Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Peru, and Panama, and reached an agreement to carry out 19 "activities" with the Colombian army over the next year, including joint military exercises.

The Proxy Pivot

Coverage of the Obama administration's much-publicized strategic "pivot" to Asia has focused on the creation of yet more bases and new naval deployments to the region.  The military (which has dropped the word pivot for "rebalancing") is, however, also planning and carrying out numerous exercises and training missions with regional allies.  In fact, the Navy and Marines alone already reportedly engage in more than 170 bilateral and multilateral exercises with Asia-Pacific nations each year.  

One of the largest of these efforts took place in and around the Hawaiian Islands from late June through early August.  Dubbed RIMPAC 2012, the exercise brought together more than 40 ships and submarines, more than 200 aircraft, and 25,000 personnel from 22 nations, including Australia, India, Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Thailand, and Tonga. 

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Almost 7,000 American troops also joined around 3,400 Thai forces, as well as military personnel from Indonesia, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, and South Korea as part of Cobra Gold 2012.  In addition, U.S. Marines took part in Hamel 2012, a multinational training exercise involving members of the Australian and New Zealand militaries, while other American troops joined the Armed Forces of the Philippines for Exercise Balikatan.

The effects of the "pivot" are also evident in the fact that once neutralist India now holds more than 50 military exercises with the United States each year -- more than any other country in the world.  "Our partnership with India is a key part of our rebalance to the Asia-Pacific and, we believe, to the broader security and prosperity of the 21st century," said Deputy Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter on a recent trip to the subcontinent. Just how broad is evident in the fact that India is taking part in America's proxy effort in Somalia.  In recent years, the Indian Navy has emerged as an "important contributor" to the international counter-piracy effort off that African country's coast, according to Andrew Shapiro of the State Department's Bureau of Political-Military Affairs.

Peace by Proxy

India's neighbor Bangladesh offers a further window into U.S. efforts to build proxy forces to serve American interests.

Earlier this year, U.S. and Bangladeshi forces took part in an exercise focused on logistics, planning, and tactical training, codenamed Shanti Doot-3.  The mission was notable in that it was part of a State Department program, supported and executed by the Pentagon, known as the Global Peace Operations Initiative (GPOI). 

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First implemented under George W. Bush, GPOI provides cash-strapped nations funds, equipment, logistical assistance and training to enable their militaries to become "peacekeepers" around the world.  Under Bush, from the time the program was established in 2004 through 2008, more than $374 million was spent to train and equip foreign troops.  Under President Obama, Congress has funded the program to the tune of $393 million, according to figures provided to TomDispatch by the State Department. 

In a speech earlier this year, the State Department's Andrew Shapiro told a Washington, D.C., audience that "GPOI is particularly focusing a great deal of its efforts to support the training and equipping of peacekeepers deploying to... Somalia" and had provided "tens of millions of dollars worth of equipment for countries deploying [there]."  In a blog post he went into more detail, lauding U.S. efforts to train Djiboutian troops to serve as peacekeepers in Somalia and noting that the U.S. had also provided impoverished Djibouti with radar equipment and patrol boats for offshore activities.  "Djibouti is also central to our efforts to combat piracy," he wrote, "as it is on the front line of maritime threats including piracy in the Gulf of Aden and surrounding waters."

Djibouti and Bangladesh are hardly unique.  Under the auspices of the Global Peace Operations Initiative, the U.S. has partnered with 62 nations around the globe, according to statistics provided by the State Department.  These proxies-in-training are, not surprisingly, some of the poorest nations in their respective regions, if not the entire planet.  They include Benin, Ethiopia, Malawi, and Togo in Africa, Nepal and Pakistan in Asia, and Guatemala and Nicaragua in the Americas.  

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's ("a regular antidote to the mainstream media"), is the co-founder of the American Empire Project and, most recently, the author of Mission Unaccomplished: Tomdispatch (more...)

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