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Tomgram: Nick Turse, American Proxy Wars in Africa

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This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Just a small reminder that you can still get your own signed, personalized copy of recent Izzy Award winner Nick Turse's bestselling book Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam for a donation of $100 (or more) to this site.  Given that the TomDispatch audience loves books, such contributions are one of the ways we keep afloat in a treacherous world and are deeply appreciated. Check out our donation page where other signed books by both Nick and me are also available. Tom]

Our major post-9/11 wars are goners and the imagery of American war-making is heading downhill. The Iraq War was long ago left in the trash heap of history, while in Afghanistan the talk is now about "the zero option" -- that is, about an irritated Obama administration making a lock, stock, and drone departure from that country as 2014 ends. Meanwhile, back in America, headlines indicate that the U.S. military stands trembling at the brink of evisceration, with the U.S. Army soon to return to pre-World War II levels of troop strength and all the services about to go on a diet in an era of belt-tightening.  The only new arms being promoted are the ones Republicans are "up in" when it comes to the potential destruction of U.S. military might.

As it happens, the impression this leaves bears only the most minimal relationship to the actual U.S. global military posture of this moment.  The Middle Eastern and Persian Gulf buildup around Iran remains massive, even as talks on that country's nuclear program are underway.  Despite the "zero option" media focus on Afghanistan, Obama administration officials seem determined that a residual force of trainers, mentors, and special operations types will remain in that country to anchor a rump war after combat troops leave this year.  They clearly expect the successor to the recalcitrant President Hamid Karzai to sign the necessary bilateral security pact -- even if at the last moment.  As for the axe being taken to the Pentagon budget, it turns out, at worst, to be a penknife.

In the meantime, hardly noticed amid all the hoopla about future cuts to Army strength (which do indicate a genuine no-invasions-no-occupations-on-the-Eurasian-landmass change of strategy initiated in the late Bush years), there has been next to no attention paid to a striking piece of budgetary news: despite speculations about cuts to its fleet of aircraft carriers, the U.S. Navy is expected to keep its full contingent of 11 aircraft carrier strike groups -- essentially 11 giant floating bases off the world's coasts.  This fits well with the Obama administration's much ballyhooed "pivot" to Asia.  As Michael Klare recently explained, that pivot is, at heart, a naval strategy (consonant with those 11 carriers) of ensuring ongoing control over the crucial energy sea lanes in the Persian Gulf, the Indian Ocean, and the East and South China Seas through which China is going to have to import staggering amounts of liquid energy in the coming decades.

Finally, on a planet still impressively heavily garrisoned by Washington, hardly noticed by anyone and rarely written about, the U.S. military has for years been quietly moving into Africa in a distinctly below-the-radar fashion.  This represents a major new commitment of American power in a world of supposed cutbacks, but you would never know it.  If you're a news jockey, every now and then you can catch a report, like David Cloud's recently in the Los Angeles Times, which offers a brief snapshot of that process with, for instance, a head's-up that 50 U.S. Special Operations troops have just been put on the ground at a "remote outpost" in Tunisia.  However, only at TomDispatch, thanks to the reporting of Nick Turse, can you find an ongoing account of the U.S. military move into Africa, its planning, its implementation, and the destabilization and blowback that seem to accompany it.  The Pentagon's newest tactic for Africa, as he documents today: refight the colonial wars in partnership with the French.  Just tell me: What could possibly go wrong? Tom

Washington's Back-to-the-Future Military Policies in Africa 
America's New Model for Expeditionary Warfare 
By Nick Turse

Lion Forward Teams? Echo Casemate? Juniper Micron?

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You could be forgiven if this jumble of words looks like nonsense to you.  It isn't.  It's the language of the U.S. military's simmering African interventions; the patois that goes with a set of missions carried out in countries most Americans couldn't locate on a map; the argot of conflicts now primarily fought by proxies and a former colonial power on a continent that the U.S. military views as a hotbed of instability and that hawkish pundits increasingly see as a growth area for future armed interventions.     

Since 9/11, the U.S. military has been making inroads in Africa, building alliances, facilities, and a sophisticated logistics network.  Despite repeated assurances by U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) that military activities on the continent were minuscule, a 2013 investigation by TomDispatch exposed surprisingly large and expanding U.S. operations -- including recent military involvement with no fewer than 49 of 54 nations on the continent.  Washington's goal continues to be building these nations into stable partners with robust, capable militaries, as well as creating regional bulwarks favorable to its strategic interests in Africa.  Yet over the last years, the results have often confounded the planning -- with American operations serving as a catalyst for blowback (to use a term of CIA tradecraft). 

A U.S.-backed uprising in Libya, for instance, helped spawn hundreds of militias that have increasingly caused chaos in that country, leading to repeated attacks on Western interests and the killing of the U.S. ambassador and three other Americans. Tunisia has become ever more destabilized, according to a top U.S. commander in the region. Kenya and Algeria were hit by spectacular, large-scale terrorist attacks that left Americans dead or wounded.  South Sudan, a fledgling nation Washington recently midwifed into being that has been slipping into civil war, now has more than 870,000 displaced persons, is facing an imminent hunger crisis, and has recently been the site of mass atrocities, including rapes and killings. Meanwhile, the U.S.-backed military of Mali was repeatedly defeated by insurgent forces after managing to overthrow the elected government, and the U.S.-supported forces of the Central African Republic (CAR) failed to stop a ragtag rebel group from ousting the president.  

In an effort to staunch the bleeding in those two countries, the U.S. has been developing a back-to-the-future military policy in Africa -- making common cause with one of the continent's former European colonial powers in a set of wars that seem to be spreading, not staunching violence and instability in the region.

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The French Connection 

After establishing a trading post in present-day Senegal in 1659, France gradually undertook a conquest of West Africa that, by the early twentieth century, left it with a vast colonial domain encompassing present-day Burkina Faso, Benin, Chad, Guinea, Ivory Coast, Mali, Niger, and Senegal, among other places.  In the process, the French used Foreign Legionnaires from Algeria, Goumiers from Morocco, and Tirailleurs from Senegal, among other African troops, to bolster its ranks.  Today, the U.S. is pioneering a twenty-first-century brand of expeditionary warfare that involves backing both France and the armies of its former colonial charges as Washington tries to accomplish its policy aims in Africa with a limited expenditure of blood and treasure. 

In a recent op-ed for the Washington Post, President Barack Obama and French President François Hollande outlined their efforts in glowing terms:

"In Mali, French and African Union forces -- with U.S. logistical and information support -- have pushed back al-Qaeda-linked insurgents, allowing the people of Mali to pursue a democratic future. Across the Sahel, we are partnering with countries to prevent al-Qaeda from gaining new footholds. In the Central African Republic, French and African Union soldiers -- backed by American airlift and support -- are working to stem violence and create space for dialogue, reconciliation, and swift progress to transitional elections."

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Tom Engelhardt, who runs the Nation Institute's Tomdispatch.com ("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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