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General News    H3'ed 4/22/19

Tomgram: Nick Turse, No Need to Whisper, AFRICOM Isn't Listening In

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What is it about the U.S. military and TomDispatch? Last August, I discovered (thanks to a correspondent in that military) that the Pentagon's computer networks had blocked this website. (The message you received if you tried to get to it: "You have attempted to access a blocked website. Access to this website has been blocked for operational reasons by the DOD Enterprise-Level Protection System.") And the reason/category for blocking it: "hate and racism." As I wrote at the time, I could after a fashion understand why our work might fall under that rubric: "TomDispatch has always hated America's never-ending, ever-spreading, refugee- and terror-producing wars that now extend from South Asia across the Middle East and deep into Africa." And I added, "Among the authors who have spread TomDispatch's antiwar gospel of hatred -- now so judiciously cut off by the Pentagon -- Nick Turse, in particular, has long grimly tracked the growth and spread of Washington's forever wars and of the Special Operations forces, the semi-secret military that has become, in these years, their heart and soul."

Little did I know how accurate I was, however. Today, TomDispatch regular and Managing Editor Nick Turse explains how he personally got "eliminated" from the attention of AFRICOM, the command he's covered so assiduously for years in a way that its personnel evidently didn't find quite flattering enough. In fact, it could be said that when it comes to criticism of American wars, this website has been eerily on target since it began in 2002. And it's true that if you had read any of our pieces on American war making from 2004 to 2010, 2011 to the piece I posted last week, you might have felt a certain need to stop a moment and think twice about the "forever" that's been embedded in this country's twenty-first-century wars since they were first launched in October 2001. And that, of course, would have created obvious problems for a military intent on fighting its "infinite" conflicts to essentially the end of time.

Under the circumstances, if I had been U.S. Africa Command, which now officially plans, for example, to be in Somalia at least until 2026 (and I'm sure that no one at AFRICOM thinks of that as a real end date either), I might have "eliminated" Turse, too. But for those of you still capable of checking him out, here's a blow-by-blow account of his adventures in AFRICOM-land. Tom

AFRICOM Calls for My "Elimination"
(From Their Daily Media Reports)
By Nick Turse

If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? Or to bring this thought experiment into the modern age -- if it happens in the forest, does it stay in the forest? I ask this question because it has a bearing on the article to come. Specifically, what if an article of mine on the U.S. military appears somewhere in our media world and that military refuses to notice? Does it have an impact?

Before I explain, I need to shout a little: AFRICOM! AFRICOM! AFRICOM!

Any media monitoring service working for U.S. Africa Command, the umbrella organization for American military activity on the African continent, would obviously notice that outburst and provide a "clip" of this article to the command.

But just to be safe: AFRICOM! AFRICOM! AFRICOM!

Now, there is no excuse for this article not to appear in AFRICOM'S clips, which are packaged up and provided to the Africa Command's media relations office in Stuttgart-Moehringen, Germany, on weekdays as the "AFRICOM Daily News Review." In fact, including Africa Command or its acronym 11 times in the first 200 words of this piece must be some kind of record, the sort that should certainly earn this article the top spot in tomorrow's review.

But no matter how often I mention AFRICOM's name, I know perfectly well that's not going to happen. Let me explain.

The "Elimination" of "Tom's Dispatch"

"Like every organization that has a role in the public sphere, it is important to maintain awareness of events, incidents, and the atmospherics in order to participate tactically and strategically in the ongoing discussion," AFRICOM's present chief spokesman, John Manley, told me when I asked about the command's media-tracking efforts. "We need to monitor events occurring in our AOR [area of responsibility], which is one of the most dynamic and complex regions on Earth, in order to provide the most appropriate and effective counsel for leaders to make informed decisions."

Who could argue with that? And yet documents I obtained from AFRICOM via the Freedom of Information Act indicate that the command may never know this article even exists, even though it's already mentioned AFRICOM 15 times.

How could that be? As a start, don't blame some project manager at the Fairfax, Virginia-based ECS Federal, LLC (now ECS), a military contractor and "leading provider of solutions in science, engineering, and advanced technologies" hired to monitor the media and provide the command with news clips. Presumably, that person had been conscientiously taking your tax dollars in exchange for checking what outlets like the New York Times, the Washington Post, and TomDispatch had to say about AFRICOM -- until, that is, U.S. Africa Command put an end to it.

Yours truly has been writing about the command for TomDispatch since 2012, as well as for The Intercept, Vice News, and Yahoo News, among other outlets. I've exposed a "secret war" in Libya involving more than 550 U.S. drone strikes and reported on a network of African outposts integral to such warfare. I've written several pieces on AFRICOM's even larger network of outposts across the continent. I've covered killings and torture by U.S.-backed local forces on a drone base in Cameroon frequented by American military personnel, as well as cold-blooded executions committed by those same Cameroonian forces. I've written on the expansion of a drone outpost in the Horn of Africa and its role in lethal strikes against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; on the construction of a $100-million drone base in Niger and its quarter-billion-dollar operating costs (as well as skepticism about "U.S. intentions in the region"); on a previously unreported outpost in Mali; on a hushed-up Pentagon Inspector General's investigation into failures in the planning and carrying out of humanitarian projects; on U.S. missions in Niger, including an October 2017 ambush that killed four American soldiers; on the increasing number of U.S. special-ops missions across Africa; on special-ops activities and outposts in Libya; on a surge in the number of special-ops personnel continent-wide, as well as an even more impressive increase in the number of U.S. military activities there -- and that's just for a start.

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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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