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Peter Lemkin
08-06-2009, 07:53 PM
AMY GOODMAN: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has emphasized that her seven-country tour of Africa is intended to promote democracy, fight corruption, and boost US investments in African trade and agriculture.

We turn now to another issue thats widely expected to be discussed on every stop: AFRICOM, the US military command in Africa, which has been publicly opposed by every country on the continent except Liberia.

Now Secretary Clinton will not be visiting the countries in and around the oil- and gas-rich Sahara desertMali, Niger, Chad, Algeria and Mauritania. But a new book by British anthropologist Jeremy Keenan argues this area is crucial to understanding the birth of AFRICOM and the Bush administrations expansion of the global war on terror into Africa.

Keenan is a professor of social anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies in London and has spent over four decades working in and writing about this region. He traces AFRICOM and the US military concern over al-Qaedas presence in Africa back to the February 2003 kidnapping of thirty-two European tourists in Algerias Sahara desert. The hostage taking was widely blamed on Islamic militants thought to be affiliated with al-Qaeda, but Professor Keenan argues that the Bush administration and the Algerian government were the ones to blame.

His latest book is called The Dark Sahara: Americas War on Terror in Africa. Its sequel is called The Dying Sahara, will be released next year.

Anjali Kamat and I spoke with Professor Keenan last week and asked him to lay out the story.

JEREMY KEENAN: Really, the story begins in 2002. That, you will remember, is after the Americans had thought they had successfully defeated the Taliban in Afghanistan. So we move from Afghanistan at the end of 2001 with the America now sort of launching its global war on terror. And there was a feelingthere was very little evidence for this, but at least the American military felt, and they were saying, that the terrorists that they thought they had dislodged from Afghanistan had moved across through that part of Asia, across the Horn of Africa, into the Sudan and across into the Sahara, and from there, they were going to attack Europe. There was absolutely no evidence for that, and that, of course, is really a figment of imagination. And that was in sort of 2002.

And what America was trying to do or the Bush administration was trying to do was to justify the militarization of Africa. In other words, the early seeds, the growth of AFRICOM. It wanted a reason, an excuse, to, if you like, secure Africa, primarily for its oil resources, the gradually increasing threat of China on the continent. But it hadnt got a reason, or it hadnt got an excuse or a justification to do so. And the war on terror provided just such a reason. It provided the justification for the Bush administration, if you like, to get a grip on Africa and to launch the war on terror in Africa.

The problem was, there was very little terror in Africa. In fact, if we exclude the incidents in Mombasa in the hotels in 1998, a few incidents in Egypt, in North Africa and the Algerian coast, all of which are rather marginal to the main oil areas of Africa, which are around Nigeria and West Africa, there was effectively no terrorism on the continent.

And so, what happened was they fabricated it. And what they did was to kidnap, hijack and take hostage seven different groups of tourists, Europeans, traveling in the Central Sahara in Algeria, the Central Algerian Sahara. And over a period of about three to four weeks, seven different groups literally just disappeared into thin air. There were all sorts of stories of sort of Bermuda Triangles in the Sahara and so forth. Gradually, the idea or the news came out that these had been taken by Islamist or Islamic terrorists. But there was no certainty. It was being manipulated by Algeria, the Algerian secret services, working with the Americans.

And the name of the leader gradually sort of percolated out, only after about three or four months, as a man called El Para. That was his pseudonym or his war name. He had twelvehe has at least twelve aliases that I know of. Theres even a rumor that he was trained as a Green Beret in America in the 1990s. Certainly, he was working for the Algerian DRS. Thats the Algerian security services, secret military intelligence services. He was in charge of a group of so-called terrorists who kidnapped, took hostage these thirty-two European hostages. That was the beginning of the story.

That incident itself ran on for six months. The tourists were held in two different hideouts in the Algerian Sahara, literally hundreds of milesthousands of miles from anywhere. One group was released under a rather theatrically established attack, a sort of false attack, by the military after three months. Then the second group were taken all the way south into Mali. Thats two, two-and-a-half thousand miles, sort ofor kilometers south of the Mediterranean coast, right into bottom half of the Sahara. And eventually, they were released, after six months in captivity.

Now, by this time, America was talking, or the Bush administration was talking about the Sahara being a swamp of terror. Weve got to drain it. El Para was being described as Osama bin Ladens man in the Sahara. And so on and so forth. And there were lots of little incidents along the way, so to speak. El Para, himself, over the next six months was allegedly chased by combined forces of American Special Forces along with the Mali army, Algerian army, the Nigerian army, into Chad, a story which all the evidence suggests never even ever took place. This lasted for almost two years, a year and a half. And it provided the Bush administration with, if you like, the information or the disinformation to launch a new front in the war on terror, what they call the Saharan front or a second front. And I should say the word second front was used by the Americans for almost every new phase in the war on terror, every part of the world where they launched a new front was usually called a second front. So there were lots of second frontsin Latin America, in the Far East, in Southeast Asia, and, of course, in the Sahara. And that was really the story.

What is extraordinary is that, by a thousand-to-one chance, million-to-one chance, I was sort of there in the region for two or three years, more or less continuously, before this incident took place. I was there for much of the time while it happened and afterwards. And Ive been working there for a long time, so I knewI had a network of very close friends all through this region, local people. I mean, I talk about this region, were talking about a very large sort of chunk of the Sahara, much of the Central Sahara and what we call the Sahel. Thats the southern shore. So, all this region, I had a sort of network of close friends, people Id been working with, local people, mostly Tuareg, Tuareg tribesmen, who were able to provide me with details of what didnt happen in the area. You know, were talking about events which were being fabricated.

But it provided the basis for launching this new front in the war on terror, and that has become, if you like, the base for more or less everything that has happened in Africa since then. When I say everything thats happened, in terms of the development of AFRICOM and much of the ideology, if you like, that propaganda, if you want to call it that, that the Americans have used to justify much of the military action that they have taken in the rest of the continent. And when they talk about the threat of terrorism in Africa, various countries to the south, the justification for this, the argument is, Look what happened in the Sahara. This is where al-Qaeda was, and now is. And these vast, ungoverned spaces, these are the dangerous areas, the failed states, the areas which arent being governed. This is where terrorists are lurking, where theyre hanging out. Theyre threatening Europe. Theyre threatening the rest of Africa. So, this story, which was fabricated over this period of time, 2003 and 2004, has become, if you like, the base, the fact, the truth behind what is really an enormous lie.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Keenan, who ordered the kidnapping?

JEREMY KEENAN: The leader was a man called El Para. We know that he isthere is overwhelming evidence that he is an agent for the DRS. So the question is whothe DRS is the Algerian

AMY GOODMAN: The DRS being?

JEREMY KEENAN: Thats the Department of Renseignement et Scurit, the Department of Information and Security, so the secret military intelligence services in Algeria. The head of that, or the operational head, was a man called General Smain Lamari. His boss, the overall command, is General Mohamed Medine. Medine is still alive. He still holds that job. Smain Lamari, who almost certainly managing the operation, died in August two years ago. So he was managing it, and it is almost certain that he would have been ordering it and controlling it from Algiers itself.

ANJALI KAMAT: You talk about how Algeria colluded with the United States, but whats in it for Algeria?

JEREMY KEENAN: With 9/11, Algeria saw an opportunity, and the President, Bouteflika, President BouteflikaI think Im right in sayingwas the first foreign president to visit George Bush in the States. And I think Im correct in saying he probably undertook more visits than almost any other at that time. Anyhow, the development of a very close relationship between Algeria and America.

I should say, at that time, it was Algeria being a bit pushy. And what they wanted, in essence, was a deal with America, the deal being that Algeria was saying, Look, youve had this horrific atrocity happen in America, 3,000 people killed, but we know this. We understand this. Weve been the front line against terrorism for the last ten years. Weve had 200,000 people killed. You know, we are in the same boat together. So, Algeria wanting to, if you like, get into bed with America. What Americawhat Algeria wanted, of course, was high-tech equipment for its army, surveillance equipment, communications equipment. Ideally, they wanted attack helicopters and night-vision equipment and so forth.

America, for its turn, was saying, Look, its all very well, you know, you saying these things about us, but, you know, youre on top of the terrorist situation. You know, really, you dont need this sort of equipment. You know, the country is the best its been now for well overyou know, for ten years. Theres very little terrorism left. There are a few incidents up in the east in the mountains, but, by and large, you know, youre in control of the situation. So this was the American excuse, if you like, for not delivering, you know, what Algeria was wanting. That was in September.

Literally a month later, there was the first kidnap attempt on European hostages in the Sahara. And what Algeria was saying, to itself, was, Look, you know, weve got to show to the Americans that were not on top of terrorism. Weve got to show that it exists and its a problem. And also, at that same time, the Algerians knew that the Americans were sort of imagining, if you like, this movement of Taliban terrorists from Afghanistan through the southern Sahara, weaving across and getting up into Europe in that way, which is a crazy idea. So the Algerians were saying, Well, if we can sort of get some terrorism in that area, we can hopefully win the argument that were not on top of it, and also we can sort of give the Americans some concrete evidence to bolster their own theory, which was based on no intelligence at all.

ANJALI KAMAT: Let me fast-forward to the present. In your book, you talk about the role of General Jim Jones, who is now national security adviser to President Obama. Can you talk about current US policy in Africa and what the current status of AFRICOM is, now that youve set up for us the story of what created the rationale for AFRICOM?

JEREMY KEENAN: Yes, certainly. General Jim Jones plays an interesting role in this. He was, if you like, at the beginning of the story, and hes at the end of it, or if you talk about the present, now, as of course Obamas head of national security, national security adviser. At the beginning of this story, in 2002, 2003, he was head of EUCOM, so the Supreme Allied Commander in Europe and head of EUCOM, and EUCOM, thats European Command, of course covered Africa. Africa was minute; it took up very little attention from EUCOM. But that has changed. And so, in a sense, the growth of AFRICOM out of EUCOM, European Command, sort of covers this period. So it began with General Jones, when he was in charge, and the story that Ive just told you, that was under hison his watch, so to speak. And, of course, now he is Obamas national security adviser.

So what is happening with American policy in Africa now? There was a huge amount of optimism, of course, with Obama coming to power. I think now, a few months further on, we are a little bit more cautious and uncertain of what is actually happening, particularly on the AFRICOM front. At the sort of time of Obamas election, I think there was a feeling amongst or within AFRICOM that it might well get the chop. There was certainly political pressure, and still is, in Washington not to use a military presence in this way. But what weve seen in the last few months suggests, and its still early days for Obama, that in fact he is following rather in the linesin the footsteps of his predecessor in promoting and pushing AFRICOM.

And this, I think, is very serious for Africa, and it is not going to do American foreign policy any good at all, because what were seeing at the moment, in the last few months theres been almost a replay of the story Ive just told you and the same individuals concerned. That is, the people who took the hostages in 2003, the same people, have been taking hostages again nowa very complicated story; I wont go into the details of itbut since last December, thats December 2008, and up until last month. So more hostage takings again by the same people who kidnapped them in 2003. So we know that there is some involvement of the Algerian security forces, and the question is, is America involved again?

Now, in what I have written on this in the last few weeks and so forth, I have been very careful to say that I have no evidence, direct evidence, of America being involved in the way that it was in 2003 and during the Bush period. However, I do not know if the odd phone call took place. Just because I dont have evidence doesnt mean to say there is no involvement.

What is worrying is that the AFRICOM and America now, the American government, is now talking, again, in the same language as in 2003, 04: Yes, weve got al-Qaeda all over the Sahara. This is a security threat, and need AFRICOM, etc. So, this is very worrying. Again, as I emphasize, its the early days in the Obama administration. I dont think hes being particularly well advised on this, the whats going on in Africa in this particular context. But it doesit sounds very, very familiar: the same place, exactly the same people, the people who assassinated the hostage who was killed on the 31st of May, a man called Edwin Dyer, who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time, a tourist. He happened to be British, living in Austria. The person who assassinated him and beheaded him was the same person who tookwho was El Paras number two, who took the hostages in 2003, the same people.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Keenan, I wanted to ask you about Hillary Clintons trip to Africa, seven countries. Shell be going to Kenya, South Africa, Angola, Congo, Nigeria, Liberia, Cape Verde. The significance of these countries and US policy in Africa?

JEREMY KEENAN: Well, I remain a little reserved. Trips and words are one thing; actions are another. And while, of course, one obviously welcomes this apparent change in policy between the Bush administration and the Obama administration, and, if you like, the attempts to reconstruct better relations between America and the rest of the world, as long as America is peddling the AFRICOM idea and, if you like, giving primacy to the military, because this is what is happening, AFRICOM is the front line, if you like, of American policy in Africa. As long as that line is being pushed, were not going to have really much change in Africa.

The present line of giving primacy to AFRICOM, given its history and given what it is doing, is not what Africa itself wants. And I think the question is quite self-evident: why is it that, so far, every single country in Africa has said, We do not want AFRICOM? What could be clearer than that? So no matter what Hillary is doing running around Africa, the message from Africa has been, even from rulers who are fairly despotic and certainly by no means very democratic. Authoritarian rulers who have done the bidding of the United States over these years are saying, We do not want AFRICOM in our country, as at least a base for it.

So, until America gets that message onboard, loud and clear, and it sees and understands the history of how AFRICOM has developed from this very, very murky past, which I document in this volumethen the second volume will be out in the beginning of the year, that covers the last two or three years of what is happeningAmerican-African policy issure, it will improve, because it cant get any worse, but its going to be very suspect. And it is not, in my view, the right path.


AMY GOODMAN: British anthropologist Jeremy Keenan. His latest book, The Dark Sahara: Americas War on Terror in Africa.

Lauren Johnson
08-09-2014, 11:23 PM
by Glen Ford of the Black Agenda Report

Militarily, Africa is fast becoming an American continent. Barack Obama, who has been president for all but the first year of AFRICOM’s existence, has succeeded in integrating U.S. fighting units, bases, training regimens, equipment and financing into the military structures of all but a handful of African nations. The great pan-Africanist and former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah’s dream of a militarily united Africa has been all but realized – with Americans and Europeans in charge. Under the guise of “humanitarian” intervention, Obama has vastly expanded Bill Clinton and George Bush’s African footprints, so that only a few patches on the continental map lie outside Washington’s sphere of operations. Eritrea and Zimbabwe are the notable exceptions – and, therefore, future targets.

Africa is occupied territory. The African Union doesn’t even pretend to be in charge of its own nominal peace-keeping missions, which are little more than opportunities for African militaries to get paid for doing the West’s bidding. China and Brazil may be garnering the lion’s share of trade with Africa, but the men with the guns are loyal to AFRICOM – the sugar daddy to the continent’s military class. U.S. troops now sleep in African barracks, brothers in arms with African officers who can determine who will sleep next week in the presidential mansion.

The pace of U.S. penetration of West Africa has quickened dramatically since 2011, when Obama bombed Muammar Gaddafi’s Libyan government out of existence, setting a flood of jihadists and weapons streaming east to Syria and south to destabilize the nations of the Sahel. Chaos ensued – beautiful chaos, if you are a U.S. military planner seeking justification for ever-larger missions. NATO’s aggression against Libya begat the sub-Saharan chaos that justified the French and U.S. occupation of Mali and Niger. Hyperactive North African jihadists, empowered by American bombs, weapons and money, trained and outfitted their brethren on the continent, including elements of Nigeria’s Boko Haram. The Hausa-speaking Islamic warriors then bequeathed AFRICOM a priceless gift: nearly 300 schoolgirls in need of rescuing, perfect fodder for “humanitarian” intervention.

Nobody had to ask twice that Obama “Do something!”

The heads of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon were summoned to Paris (pretending it was their idea) where they declared “total war” on Boko Haram, as “observers” from the U.S., France, Britain and the European Union (Africa’s past and future stakeholders) looked on. French President Francois Hollande said (http://www.siawi.org/article7448.html) “a global and regional action plan” would come out of the conference.

“The heads of Nigeria, Chad, Niger, Benin and Cameroon were summoned to Paris where they declared ‘total war’ on Boko Haram.”

Of course, the five African states have neither the money, training, equipment nor intelligence gathering capacity for such a plan. It will be a Euro-American plan for the defense and security of West Africa – against other Africans. Immediately, the U.S. sent 80 troops to Chad (whose military has long been a mercenary asset of France) to open up a new drone base, joining previously existing U.S. drone fields in Niger, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Somalia, the Seychelles Islands, Djibouti (home to a huge French and American base), and CIA sites that need not be disclosed.

The new West African security grouping became an instant imprint of NATO, an appendage to be shaped by imperial military planners to confront enemies chosen by Washington and Paris.

What a miracle of humanitarian military momentum! The girls had only been missing for a month, and might not be rescued alive, but five neighboring African countries – one of them the biggest economy on the continent – had already been dragooned into a NATO-dominated military alliance with other subordinate African states.

It soon turned out that AFRICOM already had a special relationship with the Nigerian military that was not announced until after the schoolgirls’ abduction. AFRICOM will train a battalion of Nigerian Rangers in counterinsurgency warfare, the first time that the Command has provided “full spectrum (http://www.africom.mil/newsroom/article/23039/usaraf-trains-nigerian-ranger-battalion-for-full-spectrum-operations)” training to Africans on such a scale.

With the American public in a “Save our girls” interventionist frame of mind, operations that were secret suddenly became public. The New York Times (http://www.nytimes.com/2014/05/27/world/africa/us-trains-african-commandos-to-fight-terrorism.html) reveals that the U.S. has been running a secret program to train counterterrorism battalions for Niger and Mauritania. Elite Green Berets and Delta Force killers are instructing handpicked commandos in counterinsurgency in Mali, as well. The identity of one Times source leaves little doubt that the previously secret operations are designed to blanket the region with U.S. trained death squads. Michael Sheehan was until last year in charge of Special Operations at the Pentagon – Death Squads Central – where he pushed for more Special Ops trainers for African armies. Sheehan now holds the “distinguished chair” at West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center. In the 1980s, he was a Special Forces commander in Latin America – which can only mean death squads.

“AFRICOM will train a battalion of Nigerian Rangers in counterinsurgency warfare.”

U.S. Army Special Forces have always been political killers, most often operating with the CIA. The Phoenix Program (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Phoenix_Program), in Vietnam, which murdered between 26,000 and 41,000 people and tortured many more, was a CIA-Special Forces war crime. From 1975 to deep into the 80s, the CIA and its Special Forces muscle provided technical support and weapons to killers for Operation Condor, the death squads run by a consortium of military governments in Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Paraguay, Bolivia and Brazil, believed responsible for 60,000 murders. Sheehan was probably involved in Operation Condor (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Condor) and its Central American component, Operation Charly, and has perfected the art of political murder, ever since. If he is happy and feeling vindicated by events in Africa, then U.S.-trained death squads are about to proliferate in that part of the world.

There is no question that Obama is enamored of Special Ops, since small unit murders by professional killers at midnight look less like war – and can, if convenient, be blamed on (other) “terrorists.” However, history – recent history – proves the U.S. can get away with almost limitless carnage in Africa. Ethiopia’s 2006 invasion of Somalia, backed by U.S. forces on land, air and sea, resulted in “the worst humanitarian crisis in Africa” at the time, “worse than Darfur,” according to UN observers, with hundreds of thousands dead. The U.S. then withheld food aid to starve out Somali Shabaab fighters, leading to even more catastrophic loss of life. But, most Americans are oblivious to such crimes against Black humanity.

U.S. ally Ethiopia commits genocide against ethnic Somalis in its Ogaden region with absolute impunity, and bars the international media from the region. Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama – each of them with help from Susan Rice – have collectively killed six million Congolese since 1996. The greatest genocide since World War Two was the premeditated result of the chaos deliberately imposed on mineral-rich Congo by the U.S. and its henchmen in neighboring Rwanda and Uganda. Paul Kagame, the current leader of Rwanda, shot down a plane with two presidents aboard in 1994, sparking the mass killings that brought Kagame to power and started neighboring Congo on the road to hell. America celebrates Kagame as a hero, although the Tutsi tribal dictator sends death squads all over the world to snuff out those who oppose him.

“The U.S. can get away with almost limitless carnage in Africa.”

Ugandan leader Yoweri Museveni, a friend of the U.S. since Ronald Reagan, committed genocidal acts against his rivals from the Acholi tribe, throwing them into concentration camps. Joseph Kony was one of these Acholis, who apparently went crazy. Kony hasn’t been a threat to Uganda or any other country in the region for years, but President Obama used a supposed sighting of remnants of his Lords Resistance Army to send 100 Green Berets to the Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, Rwanda, the Central African Republic, and South Sudan. Just last month, Obama sent 150 more (http://www.blackagendareport.com/content/us-deploys-more-special-forces-search-kony-africa%E2%80%99s-stand-osama-bin-laden) troops and four aircraft to central Africa, again claiming that Kony was lurking, somewhere.

Actually, the American troops were deployed near South Sudan, which the U.S, Britain and Israel had destabilized for decades in an effort to split it off from the larger nation of Sudan. South Sudan became independent, but it remained unstable – not a nation, but a place with oil that the U.S. coveted. Many tens of thousands more are certain to die in fighting in South Sudan, but few Americans will blame their own country.

As the carnage in Congo demonstrates, whole populations can be made to disappear in Africa without most people in the West noticing. The death squads the Americans are training in Nigeria, Niger, Mauretania and Mali, and those that will soon be stalking victims in Cameroon and Benin, will not be limited to hunting Boko Haram. Death squads are, by definition, destabilizing; they poison the political and social environment beyond repair, as Central Americans who lived through the 80s can attest.

Yet, that is U.S. imperialism’s preferred method of conquest in the non-white world. It’s what the Americans actually do, when folks demand that they “Do something.”

BAR executive editor Glen Ford can be contacted at Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com (Glen.Ford@BlackAgendaReport.com).

Drew Phipps
08-09-2014, 11:28 PM
apparently the Russians don't like black folks, so they won't care.

When I was in Africa, nearly all the consumer goods I saw from cloth, to electronics, to shoes, to rice, came from China. That was many many moons ago...

Lauren Johnson
08-09-2014, 11:39 PM
apparently the Russians don't like black folks, so they won't care.

When I was in Africa, nearly all the consumer goods I saw from cloth, to electronics, to shoes, to rice, came from China. That was many many moons ago...

Drew, I fail to see you point.

Lauren Johnson
08-09-2014, 11:57 PM
U.S. Officials Talk Candidly (Just Not to Reporters) about Bases, Winning Hearts and Minds, and the “War” in Africa by Nick Turse (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175830/)

What the military will say to a reporter and what is said behind closed doors are two very different things -- especially when it comes to the U.S. military in Africa. For years, U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has maintained a veil (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175818/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_american_proxy_wars_in_af rica) of secrecy about much of the command’s activities (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175823/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_america%27s_non-stop_ops_in_africa) and mission locations (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175743/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_africom%27s_gigantic_%22s mall_footprint%22), consistently downplaying the size, scale, and scope of its efforts. At a recent Pentagon press conference, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez adhered to the typical mantra, assuring the assembled reporters that the United States “has little forward presence” on that continent. Just days earlier, however, the men building the Pentagon’s presence there were telling a very different story -- but they weren’t speaking with the media. They were speaking to representatives of some of the biggest military engineering firms on the planet. They were planning for the future and the talk was of war.

I recently experienced this phenomenon myself during a media roundtable with Lieutenant General Thomas Bostick, commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. When I asked the general to tell me just what his people were building for U.S. forces in Africa, he paused and said in a low voice to the man next to him, “Can you help me out with that?” Lloyd Caldwell, the Corps’s director of military programs, whispered back, “Some of that would be close hold” -- in other words, information too sensitive to reveal.

The only thing Bostick seemed eager to tell me about were vague plans to someday test a prototype “structural insulated panel-hut,” a new energy-efficient type of barracks being developed (http://www.erdc.usace.army.mil/Media/NewsStories/tabid/9219/Article/9420/usma-wp-cadets-sip-hut-work-completes-first-term.aspx) by cadets at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point. He also assured me that his people would get back to me with answers. What I got instead was an “interview” with a spokesman for the Corps who offered little of substance when it came to construction on the African continent. Not much information was available, he said, the projects were tiny, only small amounts of money had been spent so far this year, much of it funneled into humanitarian projects. In short, it seemed as if Africa was a construction backwater, a sleepy place, a vast landmass on which little of interest was happening.

Fast forward a few weeks and Captain Rick Cook, the chief of U.S. Africa Command’s Engineer Division, was addressing an audience of more than 50 representatives of some of the largest military engineering firms on the planet -- and this reporter. The contractors were interested in jobs and he wasn’t pulling any punches. “The eighteen months or so that I’ve been here, we’ve been at war the whole time,” Cook told them. “We are trying to provide opportunities for the African people to fix their own African challenges. Now, unfortunately, operations in Libya, South Sudan, and Mali, over the last two years, have proven there’s always something going on in Africa.”

Cook was one of three U.S. military construction officials who, earlier this month, spoke candidly about the Pentagon’s efforts in Africa to men and women from URS Corporation, AECOM, CH2M Hill, and other top firms. During a paid-access web seminar, the three of them insisted that they were seeking industry “partners” because the military has “big plans” for the continent. They foretold a future marked by expansion, including the building up of a “permanent footprint” in Djibouti for the next decade or more, a possible new compound in Niger, and a string of bases devoted to surveillance activities spreading across the northern tier of Africa. They even let slip mention of a small, previously unacknowledged U.S. compound in Mali.

The Master Plan

After my brush off by General Bostick, I interviewed an Army Corps of Engineers Africa expert, Chris Gatz, about construction projects for Special Operations Command Africa in 2013. “I’ll be totally frank with you,” he said, “as far as the scopes of these projects go, I don’t have good insights.”

What about two projects in Senegal I had stumbled across? Well, yes, he did, in fact, have information about a firing range and a “shoot house” that happened to be under construction there. When pressed, he also knew about plans I had noted in previously classified documents obtained by TomDispatch for the Corps to build a multipurpose facility in Cameroon. And on we went. “You’ve got better information than I do,” he said at one point, but it seemed like he had plenty of information, too. He just wasn’t volunteering much of it to me.

Later, I asked if there were 2013 projects that had been funded with counter-narco-terrorism (CNT) money. “No, actually there was not,” he told me. So I specifically asked about Niger.

Last year, AFRICOM spokesman Benjamin Benson confirmed to TomDispatch that the U.S. was conducting intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance, or ISR, drone operations from Base Aérienne 101 at Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, the capital of Niger. In the months since, air operations there have only increased (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/07/11/world/africa/drones-in-niger-reflect-new-us-approach-in-terror-fight.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0). In addition, documents recently obtained by TomDispatch indicated that the Army Corps of Engineers has been working on two counter-narco-terrorism projects in Arlit and Tahoua, Niger. So I told Gatz what I had uncovered. Only then did he locate the right paperwork. “Oh, okay, I’m sorry,” he replied. “You’re right, we have two of them... Both were actually awarded to construction.”

Those two CNT construction projects have been undertaken on behalf of Niger’s security forces, but in his talk to construction industry representatives, AFRICOM’s Rick Cook spoke about another project there: a possible U.S. facility still to be built. “Lately, one of our biggest focus areas is in the country of Niger. We have gotten indications from the country of Niger that they are willing to be a partner of ours,” he said. The country, he added, “is in a nice strategic location that allows us to get to many other places reasonably quickly, so we are working very hard with the Nigeriens to come up with, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a base, but a place we can operate out of on a frequent basis.”

Cook offered no information on the possible location of that facility, but recent contracting documents examined by TomDispatch indicate that the U.S. Air Force is seeking to purchase large quantities of jet fuel to be delivered to Niger's Mano Dayak International Airport.

Multiple requests for further information sent to AFRICOM’s media chief Benjamin Benson went unanswered, as had prior queries about activities at Base Aérienne 101. But Colonel Aaron Benson, Chief of the Readiness Division at Air Forces Africa, did offer further details about the Nigerien mini-base. “There is the potential to construct MILCON aircraft parking aprons at the proposed future site in Niger,”he wrote, mentioning a specific type of military construction funding dedicated to use for “enduring” bases rather than transitory facilities. In response to further questions, Cook referred to the possible site as a “base-like facility” that would be “semi-permanent” and “capable of air operations.”

Pay to Play

It turns out that, if you want to know what the U.S. military is doing in Africa, it’s advantageous to be connected to a large engineering or construction firm looking for business. Then you’re privy to quite a different type of insider assessment of the future of the U.S. presence there, one far more detailed than the modest official pronouncements that U.S. Africa Command offers to journalists. Asked at a recent Pentagon press briefing if there were plans for a West African analog to Djibouti’s Camp Lemonnier, the only "official" U.S. base on the continent, AFRICOM Commander General David Rodriguez was typically guarded. Such a “forward-operating site” was just “one of the options” the command was mulling over, he said, before launching into the sort of fuzzy language typical of official answers. “What we're really looking at doing is putting contingency locating sites, which really have some just expeditionary infrastructure that can be expanded with tents,” was the way he put it (http://www.defense.gov/Transcripts/Transcript.aspx?TranscriptID=5412&utm_source=April+9+2014+EN&utm_campaign=4%2F09%2F2014&utm_medium=email). He never once mentioned Niger, or airfield improvements, or the possibility of a semi-permanent "presence.”

Here, however, is the reality as we know it today. Over the last several years, the U.S. has been building a constellation (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/drone-base-in-niger-gives-us-a-strategic-foothold-in-west-africa/2013/03/21/700ee8d0-9170-11e2-9c4d-798c073d7ec8_story.html) of drone bases across Africa, flying (http://www.airforcetimes.com/article/20140402/NEWS04/304020047) intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions out of not only Niger, but also Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the island nation of the Seychelles. Meanwhile, an airbase in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso, serves (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175743/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_africom%27s_gigantic_%22s mall_footprint%22) as the home of a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, as well as of the Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing Airlift Support initiative. According to military documents, that “initiative” supports “high-risk activities” carried out by elite forces from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara. U.S. Army Africa documents obtained by TomDispatch also mention (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175818/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_american_proxy_wars_in_af rica) the deployment to Chad of an ISR liaison team. And according to Sam Cooks, a liaison officer with the Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. military has 29 agreements to use international airports in Africa as refueling centers.

As part of the webinar for industry representatives, Wayne Uhl, chief of the International Engineering Center for the Europe District of the Army Corps of Engineers, shed light on shadowy (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/mysterious-fatal-crash-provides-rare-glimpse-of-us-commandos-in-mali/2012/07/08/gJQAGO71WW_story.html) U.S. operations in Mali before (and possibly after (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/mysterious-fatal-crash-provides-rare-glimpse-of-us-commandos-in-mali/2012/07/08/gJQAGO71WW_story.html)) the elected government there was overthrown in a 2012 coup led by a U.S.-trained officer. Documents prepared by Uhl reveal that an American compound was constructed near Gao, a major city in the north of Mali. Gao is the site (http://articles.chicagotribune.com/2012-03-31/news/sns-rt-mali-rebelsbases-urgentl6e8ev0ei-20120331_1_reporting-by-cheick-dioura-rebel-assault-bases) of multiple Malian military bases and a “strategic” airport captured (http://www.nytimes.com/2013/01/27/world/africa/france-mali-intervention.html) by Islamist militants in 2012 and retaken by French and Malian troops early last year.
AFRICOM’s Benjamin Benson failed to respond to multiple requests for comment about the Gao compound, but Uhl offered additional details. The project was completed before the 2012 uprising and “included a vehicle maintenance facility, a small admin building, toilet facilities with water tank, a diesel generator with a fuel storage tank, and a perimeter fence,” he told me in a written response to my questions. “I imagine the site was overrun during the coup and is no longer used by U.S. forces.”

America’s lone official base on the African continent, Camp Lemonnier (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175743/), a former French Foreign Legion post in Djibouti, has been on a decade-plus growth spurt and serves a key role for the U.S. mission. “Camp Lemonnier is the only permanent footprint that we have on the continent and until such time as AFRICOM may establish a headquarters location in Africa, Camp Lemonnier will be the center of their activities here,” Greg Wilderman, the Military Construction Program Manager for Naval Facilities Engineering Command, explained.

“In 2013, we had a big jump in the amount of program projects,” he noted, specifically mentioning a large “task force” construction effort, an oblique reference to a $220 million Special Operations compound at the base that TomDispatch first reported (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175743/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_africom%27s_gigantic_%22s mall_footprint%22) on in 2013.

According to documents provided by Wilderman, five contracts worth more than $322 million (to be paid via MILCON funds) were awarded for Camp Lemonnier in late 2013. These included deals for a $25.5 million fitness center and a $41 million Joint Headquarters Facility in addition to the Special Operations Compound. This year, Wilderman noted, there are two contracts -- valued at $35 million -- already slated to be awarded, and Captain Rick Cook specifically mentioned deals for an armory and new barracks in 2014.

Cook’s presentation also indicated that a number of long-running construction projects at Camp Lemonnier were set to be completed this year, including roads, a “fuel farm,” an aircraft logistics apron, and “taxiway enhancements,” while construction of a new aircraft maintenance hangar, a telecommunications facility, and a “combat aircraft loading area” are slated to be finished in 2015. “There’s a tremendous amount of work going on,” Cook said, noting that there were 22 current projects underway there, more than at any other Navy base anywhere in the world.

And this, it turns out, is only the beginning.

“In the master plan,” Cook said, “there is close to three quarters of a billion dollars worth of construction projects that we still would like to do at Camp Lemonnier over the next 10 to 15 years.” That base, in turn, would be just one of a constellation of camps and compounds used by the U.S. in Africa. “Many of the places that we are trying to stand up or trying to get into are air missions. A lot of ISR... is going on in different parts of the continent. Generally speaking, the Air Force is probably going to be assigned to do much of that,” he told the contractors. “The Air Force is going to be doing a great deal of work on these bases… that are going to be built across the northern tier of Africa.”

Hearts and Minds

When I spoke with Chris Gatz of the Army Corps of Engineers, the first projects he mentioned and the only ones he seemed eager to talk about were those for African nations. This year, $6.5 million in projects had been funded when we spoke and of that, the majority were for “humanitarian assistance” or HA construction projects, mostly in Togo and Tunisia, and “peacekeeping” operations in Ghana and Djibouti.

Uhl talked about humanitarian projects, too. “HA projects are small, difficult, challenging for the Corps of Engineers to accomplish at a low, in-house cost… but despite all this, HA projects are extremely rewarding,” he said. “The appreciation expressed by the locals is fantastic.” He then drew attention to another added benefit: “Each successful project is a photo opportunity.”

Uhl wasn’t the only official to touch on the importance of public perception in Africa or the need to curry favor with military “partners” on the continent. Cook spoke to the contractors, for instance, about the challenges of work in austere locations, about how bureaucratic shakedowns by members of African governments could cause consternation and construction delays, about learning to work with the locals, and about how important such efforts were for “winning hearts and minds of folks in the area.”

The Naval Facilities Engineering Command’s Wilderman talked up the challenges of working in an environment in which the availability of resources was limited, the dangers of terrorism were real, and there was “competition for cooperation with [African] countries from some other world powers.” This was no doubt a reference to increasing Chinese trade (http://www.csmonitor.com/World/Africa/Africa-Monitor/2014/0319/China-s-trade-with-Africa-at-record-high), aid (http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2013/apr/29/china-critics-aid-package-africa), investment (http://www.spiegel.de/international/world/chinese-investment-in-africa-boosts-economies-but-worries-many-a-934826.html), and economic ties (http://www.economist.com/news/middle-east-and-africa/21574012-chinese-trade-africa-keeps-growing-fears-neocolonialism-are-overdone-more) across the continent.

He also left no doubt about U.S. plans. “We will be in Africa for some time to come,” he told the contractors. “There’s lots more to do there.”

Cook expanded on this theme. “It’s a big, big place,” he said. “We know we can’t do it alone. So we’re going to need partners in industry, we’re going to need… local nationals and even third country nationals.”

AFRICOM at War

For years, senior AFRICOM officers and spokesmen have downplayed the scope of U.S. operations on the continent, stressing that the command has only a single base and a very light footprint there. At the same time, they have limited access to journalists and refused to disclose the number and tempo of the command’s operations, as well as the locations of its deployments and of bases that go by other names. AFRICOM’S public persona remains one of humanitarian missions and benign-sounding support for local partners.

“Our core mission of assisting African states and regional organizations to strengthen their defense capabilities better enables Africans to address their security threats and reduces threats to U.S. interests,” says the command. “We concentrate our efforts on contributing to the development of capable and professional militaries that respect human rights, adhere to the rule of law, and more effectively contribute to stability in Africa.” Efforts like sniper training for proxy forces and black ops missions hardly come up. Bases are mostly ignored. The word “war” is rarely mentioned.

TomDispatch’s recent investigations have, however, revealed that the U.S. military is indeed pivoting to Africa. It now averages far more than a mission a day (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175823/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_america%27s_non-stop_ops_in_africa/) on the continent, conducting operations (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175743/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_africom%27s_gigantic_%22s mall_footprint%22) with almost every African military force, in almost every African country (http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175823/tomgram%3A_nick_turse,_america%27s_non-stop_ops_in_africa/), while building or building up camps, compounds, and “contingency security locations (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175743/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_africom%27s_gigantic_%22s mall_footprint%22).” The U.S. has taken an active role in wars from Libya (http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2011/08/30/america-s-secret-libya-war-u-s-spent-1-billion-on-covert-ops-helping-nato.html) to the Central African Republic (http://www.tomdispatch.com/blog/175818/tomgram%3A_nick_turse%2C_american_proxy_wars_in_af rica), sent special ops forces into countries from Somalia (http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/oct/06/us-special-forces-libya-somalia) to South Sudan (http://www.navytimes.com/article/20131227/NEWS/312270010/3-SEALs-wounded-South-Sudan-back-U-S-), conducted airstrikes (http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/26/world/africa/somalia-us-airstrike/) and abduction missions (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/video-shows-us-abduction-of-accused-al-qaeda-terrorist-on-trial-for-embassy-bombings/2014/02/10/7f84927a-8f6b-11e3-b46a-5a3d0d2130da_story.html), even put boots on the ground in countries where it pledged (http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/pentagon-deploys-small-number-of-troops-to-war-torn-mali/2013/04/30/2b02c928-b1a0-11e2-bc39-65b0a67147df_story.html) it would not.

“We have shifted from our original intent of being a more congenial combatant command to an actual war-fighting combatant
command,” AFRICOM’s Rick Cook explained to the audience of big-money defense contractors. He was unequivocal: the U.S. has been “at war” on the continent for the last two and half years. It remains to be seen when AFRICOM will pass this news on to the American public.

Drew Phipps
08-10-2014, 01:16 PM
I was suggesting that there were no Great Powers that would have any interest in preventing a US military presence in Africa.

Lauren Johnson
08-10-2014, 01:38 PM
I was suggesting that there were no Great Powers that would have any interest in preventing a US military presence in Africa.

Actually, I think China for one does care a great deal. At least I read it somewhere but cannot find it now. China has been following a strategy of trading development for resources. The comment was that wherever China develops, chaos mysteriously breaks out. Kinda reminds me of the Pepe Escobar theory of the Empire of Chaos, that he has been developing. So maybe he said it.

Drew Phipps
08-10-2014, 01:56 PM
I can't speak to China's current level of interest in Africa, but when I was in Africa, China must have viewed Africa as a "market", a significant source of foreign currency. It is unlikely that the presence of the US military would affect capitalism, in general, even if it is the one form of capitalism practiced by China for decades.

Tracy Riddle
08-16-2014, 12:13 PM
From what I've read the last several years, China is VERY interested in Africa, which is rich in resources and needs the outside investment to develop them.

Magda Hassan
08-17-2014, 07:51 AM
Chinese investment has been very welcome and has been a good experience and very beneficial over all. It doesn't come with the strings that US aid comes with. The African continent is littered with the carcases of US 'aid' and the debt that came in its wake and the privatization vultures that came after to pick off any thing left over. It is not like that with China. And China gets access to rare minerals and other resources that they need.

Lauren Johnson
08-17-2014, 02:01 PM
Chinese investment has been very welcome and has been a good experience and very beneficial over all. It doesn't come with the strings that US aid comes with. The African continent is littered with the carcases of US 'aid' and the debt that came in its wake and the privatization vultures that came after to pick off any thing left over. It is not like that with China. And China gets access to rare minerals and other resources that they need.

It seems to me, AFRICOM is there precisely for this "problem." You can't have a uni-polar world with things like this going on. Ant then there is the problem of NORTHCOM. It's all about full spectrum dominance.

Magda Hassan
08-17-2014, 11:01 PM
Chinese investment has been very welcome and has been a good experience and very beneficial over all. It doesn't come with the strings that US aid comes with. The African continent is littered with the carcases of US 'aid' and the debt that came in its wake and the privatization vultures that came after to pick off any thing left over. It is not like that with China. And China gets access to rare minerals and other resources that they need.

It seems to me, AFRICOM is there precisely for this "problem." You can't have a uni-polar world with things like this going on. Ant then there is the problem of NORTHCOM. It's all about full spectrum dominance.

Exactly!

Have you noticed how all the crises happen right next to oil fields or controlling oil infrastructure or other coveted energy and mineral resources....Boko Harem and Yizidis, Ukraine for example?