This article originally appeared at TomDispatch.com.
If you're a reader of TomDispatch, then you know something of real importance about this country that most Americans don't. As an imperial power, there's never been anything like the United States when it comes to garrisoning this planet. By comparison, the Romans and imperial Chinese were pikers; the Soviet Union in its prime was the poorest of runners-up; even the British, at the moment when the sun theoretically never set on their empire, didn't compare. The U.S. has hundreds of military bases ranging in size from small American towns to tiny outposts across the planet, and yet you could spend weeks, months, years paying careful attention to the media here and still have no idea that this was so. Though we garrison the globe in a historically unprecedented way, that fact is not part of any discussion or debate in this country; Congress doesn't hold hearings on global basing policy; reporters aren't sent out to cover the subject; and presidents never mention it in speeches to the nation. Clearly, nothing is to be made of it.
It's true that, if you're watching the news carefully, you will find references to a small number of these bases. In the present Korean crisis, for instance, there has been at least passing mention of Washington's bases in South Korea (and the danger that the American troops on them might face), though often deep in articles on the subject. If, to pick another example, you were to read about the political situation in Bahrain, you might similarly find mentions of the U.S. base in that small Gulf kingdom that houses the Navy's Fifth Fleet. Generally, though, despite the millions of Americans, military and civilian, who have cycled through American bases abroad in recent years, despite the vast network of them (the count is now approximately 800), and despite the fact that they undergird American military policy globally, they are, for all intents and purposes, a kind of black hole of non-news. Don't even think to ask just why the U.S. garrisons the planet in this fashion or what it might mean. It would be un-American of you to do so.
I must admit that, until I met Chalmers Johnson back at the turn of the century, I was a typical American on the subject. I never gave much thought to what he called our "empire of bases." My own shock on grasping the nature of this country's highly militarized presence across this planet led me to decide that, at least at TomDispatch, American basing policy would get some of the attention it obviously deserves. This initially happened thanks to Johnson himself; later to David Vine, author of a rare book, Base Nation, on the subject; and finally to this site's own Nick Turse, who in recent years has been following the U.S. military's global basing policy as it moved onto the rare continent that had largely lacked them: Africa. No longer. Today, he offers his latest update on the burgeoning set of bases and outposts that the U.S. military has been building or occupying and expanding there without notice, discussion, or debate, a network that will ensure we are plunged into the spreading terror wars on that continent for decades to come. Tom
America's War-Fighting Footprint in Africa
Secret U.S. Military Documents Reveal a Constellation of American Military Bases Across That Continent
By Nick Turse
General Thomas Waldhauser sounded a little uneasy. "I would just say, they are on the ground. They are trying to influence the action," commented the chief of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) at a Pentagon press briefing in March, when asked about Russian military personnel operating in North Africa. "We watch what they do with great concern."
And Russians aren't the only foreigners on Waldhauser's mind. He's also wary of a Chinese "military base" being built not far from Camp Lemonnier, a large U.S. facility in the tiny, sun-blasted nation of Djibouti. "They've never had an overseas base, and we've never had a base of... a peer competitor as close as this one happens to be," he said. "There are some very significant... operational security concerns."
At that press conference, Waldhauser mentioned still another base, an American one exposed by the Washington Post last October in an article titled, "U.S. has secretly expanded its global network of drone bases to North Africa." Five months later, the AFRICOM commander still sounded aggrieved. "The Washington Post story that said 'flying from a secret base in Tunisia.' It's not a secret base and it's not our base... We have no intention of establishing a base there."
Waldhauser's insistence that the U.S. had no baase in Tunisia relied on a technicality, since that foreign airfield clearly functions as an American outpost. For years, AFRICOM has peddled the fiction that Djibouti is the site of its only "base" in Africa. "We continue to maintain one forward operating site on the continent, Camp Lemonnier," reads the command's 2017 posture statement. Spokespeople for the command regularly maintain that any other U.S. outposts are few and transitory -- "expeditionary" in military parlance.
While the U.S. maintains a vast empire of military installations around the world, with huge -- and hard to miss -- complexes throughout Europe and Asia, bases in Africa have been far better hidden. And if you listened only to AFRICOM officials, you might even assume that the U.S. military's footprint in Africa will soon be eclipsed by that of the Chinese or the Russians.
Highly classified internal AFRICOM files offer a radically different picture. A set of previously secret documents, obtained by TomDispatch via the Freedom of Information Act, offers clear evidence of a remarkable, far-ranging, and expanding network of outposts strung across the continent. In official plans for operations in 2015 that were drafted and issued the year before, Africa Command lists 36 U.S. outposts scattered across 24 African countries. These include low-profile locations -- from Kenya to South Sudan to a shadowy Libyan airfield -- that have never previously been mentioned in published reports. Today, according to an AFRICOM spokesperson, the number of these sites has actually swelled to 46, including "15 enduring locations." The newly disclosed numbers and redacted documents contradict more than a decade's worth of dissembling by U.S. Africa Command and shed new light on a constellation of bases integral to expanding U.S. military operations on the African continent and in the Middle East.
A map of U.S. military bases -- forward operating sites, cooperative security locations, and contingency locations -- across the African continent in 2014 from declassified AFRICOM planning documents (Nick Turse/TomDispatch).click here
A Constellation of Bases
AFRICOM failed to respond to repeated requests for further information about the 46 bases, outposts, and staging areas currently dotting the continent. Nonetheless, the newly disclosed 2015 plans offer unique insights into the wide-ranging network of outposts, a constellation of bases that already provided the U.S. military with unprecedented continental reach.
Those documents divide U.S. bases into three categories: forward operating sites (FOSes), cooperative security locations (CSLs), and contingency locations (CLs). "In total, [the fiscal year 20]15 proposed posture will be 2 FOSes, 10 CSLs, and 22 CLs" state the documents. By spring 2015, the number of CSLs had already increased to 11, according to then-AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez, in order to allow U.S. crisis-response forces to reach potential hot spots in West Africa. An appendix to the plan, also obtained by TomDispatch, actually lists 23 CLs, not 22. Another appendix mentions one additional contingency location.
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