[Note for TomDispatch Readers: It seems that even the Pentagon reads TD. In February, TomDispatch Managing Editor Nick Turse wrote an article taking the Department of Defense to task for whitewashing the history of the Vietnam War at a website it set up to memorialize the 50th anniversary of that catastrophe. Among other offenses, the piece documented an attempt to rebrand the infamous My Lai massacre as an "incident" and downgrade the civilian death toll by hundreds. Look at the Pentagon's Vietnam timeline today and you'll find that My Lai is, indeed, referred to as a massacre and with a more realistic body count. In fact, all the timeline entries taken to task by Turse have been changed (as have others), even if they still leave much to be desired. Call it a modest victory for TomDispatch and Turse, author of a paradigm-shifting history of that conflict, Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam. Tom]
After years in the shadows, U.S. Navy SEALs emerged in a big way with the 2011 night raid that killed Osama bin Laden. Afterward, they were lauded in print as supermen, feted by the president, and praised by the first lady. Soon, some of the country's most secretive and elite special operators were taking the big screen by storm with 2012's blockbuster Zero Dark Thirty and a film starring actual Navy Seals, Act of Valor.
Last year, yet another Hollywood smash, Captain Phillips, featured heroic SEALs. This time, the elite mariners weren't slipping into a compound in Pakistan or on some crazy global quest, but killing pirates off the coast of Africa. The location was telling.
In recent years, as stories of SEAL exploits have bubbled up into the news, the operations of America's secret military have been on an exponential growth spurt (with yet more funding promised in future Pentagon budgets) -- and a major focus of their activities has been Africa. In 2012, for example, SEALs carried out a hostage rescue mission in Somalia. Last fall, word of a SEAL mission in that country hit the news after a bid to kidnap a terror suspect went south, and the Americans were driven off under heavy fire. (That same night, Army Delta Force commandos successfully captured a Libyan militant in a night raid.) A few months later, three of four SEALs conducting an evacuation mission in South Sudan were wounded when the aircraft they were flying in was hit by small arms fire. And just recently, SEALs were again in the news, this time for capturing an oil tanker with cargo from Libya that the weak U.S.-backed government there considered stolen.
By all accounts, SEAL missions in Africa are on the rise, and the Navy's special operators are far from alone. For the last several years, Nick Turse, author of the bestseller Kill Anything That Moves, has been covering the expansion of U.S. Africa Command and the quiet, under-the-radar growth of U.S. operations on that continent at TomDispatch. He has repeatedly broken news about the military's long African reach, its new bases (even if never referred to by that name), and its creation of a logistics network that now stretches across significant parts of the continent. Today, Turse offers a revealing look at the quickening pace of U.S. military operations in Africa as the Pentagon prepares for future wars, and the destabilization and blowback it is already helping to sow on that continent. Tom
U.S. Military Averaging More Than a Mission a Day in Africa
Documents Reveal Blinding Pace of Ops in 2013, More of the Same for 2014
By Nick Turse
The numbers tell the story: 10 exercises, 55 operations, 481 security cooperation activities.
For years, the U.S. military has publicly insisted that its efforts in Africa are small scale. Its public affairs personnel and commanders have repeatedly claimed no more than a "light footprint" on that continent, including a remarkably modest presence when it comes to military personnel. They have, however, balked at specifying just what that light footprint actually consists of. During an interview, for instance, a U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) spokesman once expressed worry that tabulating the command's deployments would offer a "skewed image" of U.S. efforts there.
It turns out that the numbers do just the opposite.
Last year, according AFRICOM commander General David Rodriguez, the U.S. military carried out a total of 546 "activities" on the continent -- a catch-all term for everything the military does in Africa. In other words, it averages about one and a half missions a day. This represents a 217% increase in operations, programs, and exercises since the command was established in 2008.
In testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee earlier this month, Rodriguez noted that the 10 exercises, 55 operations, and 481 security cooperation activities made AFRICOM "an extremely active geographic command." But exactly what the command is "active" in doing is often far from clear.
AFRICOM releases information about only a fraction of its activities. It offers no breakdown on the nature of its operations. And it allows only a handful of cherry-picked reporters the chance to observe a few select missions. The command refuses even to offer a count of the countries in which it is "active," preferring to keep most information about what it's doing -- and when and where -- secret.
While Rodriguez's testimony offers but a glimpse of the scale of AFRICOM's activities, a cache of previously undisclosed military briefing documents obtained by TomDispatch sheds additional light on the types of missions being carried out and their locations all across the continent. These briefings prepared for top commanders and civilian officials in 2013 demonstrate a substantial increase in deployments in recent years and reveal U.S. military operations to be more extensive than previously reported. They also indicate that the pace of operations in Africa will remain robust in 2014, with U.S. forces expected again to average far more than a mission each day on the continent.
The Constant Gardener
U.S. troops carry out a wide range of operations in Africa, including airstrikes targeting suspected militants, night raids aimed at kidnapping terror suspects, airlifts of French and African troops onto the battlefields of proxy wars, and evacuation operations in destabilized countries. Above all, however, the U.S. military conducts training missions, mentors allies, and funds, equips, and advises its local surrogates.