This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com. To receive TomDispatch in your inbox three times a week, click here.
Here's a question for you: Can a military tiptoe onto a continent? It seems the unlikeliest of images, and yet it's a reasonable enough description of what the U.S. military has been doing ever since the Pentagon created an Africa Command (AFRICOM) in 2007. It's been slipping, sneaking, creeping into Africa, deploying ever more forces in ever more ways doing ever more things at ever more facilities in ever more countries -- and in a fashion so quiet, so covert, that just about no American has any idea this is going on. One day, when an already destabilizing Africa explodes into various forms of violence, the U.S. military will be in the middle of it and Americans will suddenly wonder how in the world this could have happened.
In the Cold War years, while proxy battles took place between U.S.- and Soviet-backed forces in Angola and other African lands, the U.S. military, which by then had garrisoned much of the planet, was noticeably absent from the continent. No longer. And no one who might report on it seems to be paying attention as a downsizing media evidently sees no future in anticipating America's future wars. In fact, with the exception of Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post, it's hard to think of any journalist who has dug into the fast-expanding American role in Africa.
Enter TomDispatch's Nick Turse. When it comes to American military plans for that continent, he has been doing the work of the rest of the American foreign press corps on his own. For the last two years, while his bestselling book on the Vietnam War, Kill Anything That Moves, was being published, he has been carefully tracking and mapping the growing American military presence in Africa, exploring the way those moves may actually be helping to destabilize the continent, and doing his best to make sure that U.S. planning for future wars there doesn't go unnoticed and unreported.
Today, he puts his work -- and his efforts to mine resistant AFRICOM spokespeople for information -- into a single panorama of everything a fine reporter and outsider can possibly know now about Washington's ongoing militarization of Africa. It's a grim tale of the way, via a hush-hush version of mission creep, the Pentagon and AFRICOM are turning Africa into a battlefield of the future. Don't say you weren't warned -- at TomDispatch. Tom
The Pivot to Africa
The Startling Size, Scope, and Growth of U.S. Military Operations on the African Continent
By Nick Turse
They're involved in Algeria and Angola, Benin and Botswana, Burkina Faso and Burundi, Cameroon and the Cape Verde Islands. And that's just the ABCs of the situation. Skip to the end of the alphabet and the story remains the same: Senegal and the Seychelles, Togo and Tunisia, Uganda and Zambia. From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the U.S. military is at work. Base construction, security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion -- except at U.S. Africa Command.
To hear AFRICOM tell it, U.S. military involvement on the continent ranges from the miniscule to the microscopic. The command is adamant that it has only a single "military base" in all of Africa: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. The head of the command insists that the U.S. military maintains a "small footprint" on the continent. AFRICOM's chief spokesman has consistently minimized the scope of its operations and the number of facilities it maintains or shares with host nations, asserting that only "a small presence of personnel who conduct short-duration engagements" are operating from "several locations" on the continent at any given time.
With the war in Iraq over and the conflict in Afghanistan winding down, the U.S. military is deploying its forces far beyond declared combat zones. In recent years, for example, Washington has very publicly proclaimed a "pivot to Asia," a "rebalancing" of its military resources eastward, without actually carrying out wholesale policy changes. Elsewhere, however, from the Middle East to South America, the Pentagon is increasingly engaged in shadowy operations whose details emerge piecemeal and are rarely examined in a comprehensive way. Nowhere is this truer than in Africa. To the media and the American people, officials insist the U.S. military is engaged in small-scale, innocuous operations there. Out of public earshot, officers running America's secret wars say: "Africa is the battlefield of tomorrow, today."
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.
by TomDispatch / Google
The U.S. Military's Pivot to Africa, 2012-2013 (key below article) -2013 TomDispatch -Google
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.
A Base by Any Other Name...
What does the U.S. military footprint in Africa look like? Colonel Tom Davis, AFRICOM's Director of Public Affairs, is unequivocal: "Other than our base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, we do not have military bases in Africa, nor do we have plans to establish any." He admits only that the U.S. has "temporary facilities elsewhere" that support much smaller numbers of personnel, usually for a specific activity."
AFRICOM's chief of media engagement Benjamin Benson echoes this, telling me that it's almost impossible to offer a list of forward operating bases. "Places that [U.S. forces] might be, the range of possible locations can get really big, but can provide a really skewed image of where we are... versus other places where we have ongoing operations. So, in terms of providing a number, I'd be at a loss of how to quantify this."
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