After a Dec. 8 meeting between U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and French Defense Minister Yves Le Drian while both were in Afghanistan, Hagel ordered the Pentagon to assist France’s military buildup in the Central African Republic.
With the backing of the U.N. Security Council, the Francois Hollande government has more than doubled France’s military presence in the CAR. Approximately 1,600 troops are now establishing their authority at the airport outside Bangui, the capital. Meanwhile, Washington has agreed to help transport French troops into the country.
The White House issued a statement that, following Minister Le Drian’s request, “Secretary Hagel has directed the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) to begin transporting forces from Burundi to the Central African Republic, in coordination with France.” (Dec. 9)
The pretext given to justify this U.S. intervention was to “avert a humanitarian and human rights catastrophe” in the CAR. The U.S. is prepared to provide additional assistance, according to the statement.
The Central African Republic is a former French colony where Paris already had over 600 troops. Last March an alliance of four rebel organizations known as Seleka seized power, forcing former President Francois Bozize to flee the capital of Bangui.
Michel Djotodia assumed control of the CAR government as interim president after the Seleka rebels took the capital. Djotodia is a Muslim, as are many of the Seleka fighters. The French and U.S. governments use this as a pretext for intervention, even though no one has accused the rebels publicly of having any real connections to political Islam. Muslims constitute 15 percent of the CAR’s population of 4.5 million.
The French war minister, Le Drian, issued a warning to the people of the CAR, saying that, “First we’ll ask gently and if they don’t react, we’ll do it by force. The operation will take some time. The period of impunity is at an end.” (BBC World Service, Dec. 9)
Djotodia has asked the Seleka forces to remain in their barracks while the French and allied African troops take up their positions around Bangui. He has also been quoted as saying that he has very little control of the operations of the rebels and is in favor of a political settlement to the conflict.
Clashes between the Seleka forces and the French military have already occurred near the airport outside Bangui. The French government has announced that it is currently seeking to disarm Seleka and establish its firm control over the capital and other areas throughout the country.
A spokesperson for the Seleka fighters says they are the rightful leaders of the CAR during this period. Col. Saleh Zabadi, who commands the Seleka forces in Bossangoa north of Bangui, where two days of violent clashes have reportedly taken place, says that Christian militias are burning Muslims to death to force the president to step down. (CNN, Dec. 9)
France, U.S. escalate military role in Africa
Both French and U.S. imperialism have dispatched troops into African states over the last year. In January, France staged a major invasion and occupation of another one of its former colonies, Mali, under the guise of halting an incursion by Islamic-oriented armed groups in the northern and central regions of the vast mineral-rich state.
The U.S. also assisted France in its Mali intervention by transporting troops to the battlefield. Prior to a large-scale French intervention in January, the U.S. had established training and assistance programs with the Malian government through AFRICOM.
Capt. Amadou Sanogo, the leader of a March 2012 military coup in Mali, was trained in several military academies in the U.S. The Pentagon’s supposed “assistance programs” with Mali only served to weaken the West African state’s capacity to handle its own internal affairs. The difficulties stemmed from divisions — which originated during the colonial era — between the Tuareg people of Mali’s North and the southern capital of Bamako.
France and the U.S. have also collaborated in the massive bombing and war of regime-change in Libya during 2011 and in attempts to subdue and contain the Al-Shabaab resistance forces opposing the federal regime in Somalia that was set up by Washington and the European Union.
Both Washington and Paris have troops stationed in Niger, another former French colony rich in uranium resources. The U.S. is building drone stations there.
The Central African Republic has significant deposits of gold, diamonds and uranium — which also exist in Mali and Niger. Both the U.S. and France have economic interests inside the country.
While the pretext given for these interventions is humanitarianism, the real reason is to enhance the economic interests of the French and U.S. ruling classes in Africa. Until Africa breaks with imperialism and forms its own independent, continental military force to address internal political and security issues, the invasions, occupations and other forms of destabilization will continue throughout the region. n