[Note for TomDispatch Readers: This site rumbles along, significantly thanks to your contributions. So just note that Anand Gopal's remarkable new history of America's disastrous Afghan War, No Good Men Among the Living: America, the Taliban, and the War Through Afghan Eyes, and Nick Turse's bestselling classic on an earlier American disaster, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam, are both available at our donation page, along with other books connected to the site -- any of them personalized and signed in return for a contribution of $100 or more! Tom]
Amid the horrific headlines about the fanatical Islamist sect Boko Haram that should make Nigerians cringe, here's a line from a recent Guardian article that should make Americans do the same, as the U.S. military continues its "pivot" to Africa: "[U.S.] defense officials are looking to Washington's alliance with Yemen, with its close intelligence cooperation and CIA drone strikes, as an example for dealing with Boko Haram."
In fact, as the latest news reports indicate, that "close" relationship is proving something less than a raging success. An escalating drone campaign against al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) has resulted in numerous dead "militants," but also numerous dead Yemeni civilians -- and a rising tide of resentment against Washington and possibly support for AQAP. As the Washington-Sana relationship ratchets up, meaning more U.S. boots on the ground, more CIA drones in the skies, and more attacks on AQAP, the results have been dismal indeed: only recently, the U.S. embassy in the country's capital was temporarily closed to the public (for fear of attack), the insurgents launched a successful assault on soldiers guarding the presidential palace in the heart of that city, oil pipelines were bombed, electricity in various cities intermittently blacked out, and an incident, a claimed attempt to kidnap a CIA agent and a U.S. Special Operations commando from a Sana barbershop, resulted in two Yemeni deaths (and possibly rising local anger). In the meantime, AQAP seems ever more audacious and the country ever less stable. In other words, Washington's vaunted Yemeni model has been effective so far -- if you happen to belong to AQAP.
One of the poorer, less resource rich countries on the planet, Yemen is at least a global backwater. Nigeria is another matter. With the largest economy in Africa, much oil, and much wealth sloshing around, it has a corrupt leadership, a brutal and incompetent military, and an Islamist insurgency in its poverty-stricken north that, for simple bestiality, makes AQAP look like a paragon of virtue. The U.S. has aided and trained Nigerian "counterterrorism" forces for years with little to show. Add in the Yemeni model with drones overhead and who knows how the situation may spin further out of control.
In response to Boko Haram's kidnapping of 276 young women, the Obama administration has already sent in a small military team (with FBI, State Department, and Justice Department representatives included) and launched drone and "manned surveillance flights," which may prove to be just the first steps in what one day could become a larger operation. Under the circumstances, it's worth remembering that the U.S. has already played a curious role in Nigeria's destabilization, thanks to its 2011 intervention in Libya. In the chaos surrounding the fall of Libyan autocrat Muammar Qaddafi, his immense arsenals of weapons were looted and soon enough AK-47s, rocket-propelled grenades, and other light weaponry, as well as the requisite pick-up trucks mounted with machine guns or anti-aircraft guns made their way across an increasingly destabilized region, including into the hands of Boko Haram. Its militants are far better armed and trained today thanks to post-Libyan developments.
All of this, writes Nick Turse, is but part of what the U.S. military has started to call the "new normal" in Africa. The only U.S. reporter to consistently follow the U.S. pivot to that region in recent years, Turse makes clear that every new African nightmare turns out to be another opening for U.S. military involvement. Each further step by that military leads to yet more regional destabilization, and so to a greater urge to bring the Yemeni model (and its siblings) to bear with... well, you know what effect. Why doesn't Washington? Tom
The U.S. Military's New Normal in Africa
A Secret African Mission and an African Mission that's No Secret
By Nick Turse
What is Operation New Normal?
It's a question without an answer, a riddle the U.S. military refuses to solve. It's a secret operation in Africa that no one knows anything about. Except that someone does. His name is Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee Magee. He lives and breathes Operation New Normal. But he doesn't want to breath paint fumes or talk to me, so you can't know anything about it.
Confused? Stay with me.
Whatever Operation New Normal may be pales in comparison to the real "new normal" for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM). The lower-cased variant is bold and muscular. It's an expeditionary force on a war footing. To the men involved, it's a story of growth and expansion, new battlefields, "combat," and "war." It's the culmination of years of construction, ingratiation, and interventions, the fruits of wide-eyed expansion and dismal policy failures, the backing of proxies to fight America's battles, while increasing U.S. personnel and firepower in and around the continent. It is, to quote an officer with AFRICOM, the blossoming of a "war-fighting combatant command." And unlike Operation New Normal, it's finally heading for a media outlet near you.
Ever Less New, Ever More Normal
Since 9/11, the U.S. military has been ramping up missions on the African continent, funneling money into projects to woo allies, supporting and training proxy forces, conducting humanitarian outreach, carrying out air strikes and commando raids, creating a sophisticated logistics network throughout the region, and building a string of camps, "cooperative security locations," and bases-by-other-names.
All the while, AFRICOM downplayed the expansion and much of the media, with a few notable exceptions, played along. With the end of the Iraq War and the drawdown of combat forces in Afghanistan, Washington has, however, visibly "pivoted" to Africa and, in recent weeks, many news organizations, especially those devoted to the military, have begun waking up to the new normal there.
While daily U.S. troop strength continent-wide hovers in the relatively modest range of 5,000 to 8,000 personnel, an under-the-radar expansion has been constant, with the U.S. military now conducting operations alongside almost every African military in almost every African country and averaging more than a mission a day.