Journalist Nick Turse has researched the increasing role of the United States Africa Command (Africom) over the last seven years, which he presents in his new book, “Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa” (Haymarket Books, 2015). These military operations have impacted most African countries through the utilization of military bases, waterways and airspace.
Although Africom’s founding was ostensibly designed to enhance the national security capabilities of African nation-states, coupled with addressing alleged threats to U.S. interests, nothing like this has happened.
Since Africom was launched, instability has increased in Africa. The ongoing war in Somalia, the breakup of the Republic of Sudan and subsequent civil war in the newly created Republic of South Sudan, and the wars against so-called Islamic extremists in Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Cameroon and Chad have fueled Washington’s militarism on the continent.
Instead of using the Central Intelligence Agency’s term “blowback” (unintended consequences of a covert operation), which the late Chalmers Johnson wrote about, Turse utilizes the phrase “blowforward.” He examines how failed U.S. counterterrorism operations throughout Africa, the Middle East and Asia have led to broader interventions and the promotion of military and intelligence theorists who devise them.
U.S. imperialism’s covert war
The U.S. military’s budgetary allocations for Africom have increased substantially since Obama’s election in 2008. In many respects, this U.S. war on Africa has remained hidden from domestic and international news coverage. Government spokespeople and corporate media depict it as targeted Special Forces commando and drone strikes against operatives of “terrorist” organizations.
Turse writes: “For years, the U.S. military has publicly insisted that its efforts in Africa are negligible, intentionally leaving the [U.S.] American people, not to mention most Africans, in the dark about the true size, scale, and scope of its operations there. AFRICOM public affairs personnel and commanders have repeatedly claimed no more than a ‘light footprint’ on the continent.”
The author exposes the Pentagon, which claims “to have just one base anywhere in Africa: Camp Lemonnier in the tiny nation of Djibouti. They don’t like to talk about military operations. They offer detailed information about only a tiny fraction of their training exercises. They refuse to disclose the locations where personnel have been stationed or even counts of the countries involved.”
An example of this occurred in January in an operation dubbed “Silent Quest 15-1,” which took place at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa, Fla. Pentagon forces led by the U.S. Special Operations Command (SOCOM), in conjunction with 12 other countries, including Canada, Denmark, Germany, Norway and France, carried out exercises which planned for military operations — labeled as a war against the fictional “Islamic State of Africa.”
Turse recounts a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing where Africom Commander David Rodriguez was the principal speaker. The Pentagon presented an open-ended strategy for military interventions in Africa. Spending for these operations seems limitless since there is no public debate surrounding U.S. imperialism’s plans.
Turse quotes Rodriguez: “Transregional terrorists and criminal networks continue to adapt and expand aggressively. Al-Shabab has broadened its operations to conduct, or attempt to conduct, asymmetric attacks against Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and especially Kenya. Libya-based threats are growing rapidly, including an expanding ISIL presence. … Boko Haram threatens the ability of the Nigerian government to provide security and basic services in … the northeast.”
Turse stresses, “Despite the grim outcomes since the American military began ‘pivoting’ to Africa after 9/11, the U.S. recently signed an agreement designed to keep its troops based on the continent until almost midcentury.”
Some stunning statistics related to U.S. military expansion are raised. The author says that in 2013, there were 546 U.S. activities on the continent. “Last year, that number leapt to 674. … U.S. troops were carrying out almost two operations, exercises, or activities — from drone strikes to counterinsurgency instruction, intelligence gathering to marksmanship training — somewhere in Africa every day.”
Turse continues, “This represents an enormous increase from the 172 missions, activities, programs, and exercises that AFRICOM inherited from other geographic commands when it began operations in 2008.”
Camp Lemonnier expands operations
Africom is expanding its Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti to increase its operations in neighboring Somalia and to prepare for other potential missions in Libya, Sudan, Kenya and Egypt. Additionally, Washington intelligence forces are coordinating the Saudi Arabian-Gulf Cooperation Council war against the Ansurallah (Houthi) movement across the Red Sea in Yemen.
This book contrasts U.S. Africa policy, based on militarism, with that of China, which emphasizes infrastructural and scientific developments. Africa needs genuine partnerships with the international community based on mutual interests as opposed to neocolonial schemes to extend Western domination.
Only a revolutionary movement emanating from Africa in alliance with Western anti-imperialist forces can reverse the current trajectory of intervention and destabilization which characterizes U.S. policy on the continent. This book provides a useful tool for those who recognize that the burgeoning war drive must be stopped for the benefit of Africa, as well as for oppressed and working people worldwide.