AFRICOM is Everywhere

Nick Turse wrote up a report last month detailing some of the U.S. Africa Command’s presence in Africa, some of which is widely known, much of which is more opaque. The whole thing is worth a read, but here is a snippet:

Here, however, is the reality as we know it today.  Over the last several years, the U.S. has been building a constellation of drone bases across Africa, flying 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 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 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. 

AFRICOM is also engaging in a lot of humanitarian-like activity, leaving USAID and the State Department in its wake as it launches numerous programs across the continent. More from Turse:

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.

[Wayne] Uhl [chief of the International Engineering Center for the Europe District of the Army Corps of Engineers] 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.”

All this reminds me of is this money-quote from Adam Branch’s book on humanitarian intervention in northern Uganda. Citing correspondence with an anthropologist working in Kitgum, Branch discusses a U.S. Army training exercise in that town. I won’t add commentary, because it really speaks for itself:

As a public relations officer at the American camp set up during the operation put it, “We want people to see the military as something other than soldiers. In the U.S. soldiers are seen as heroes. In Uganda they have much more fear, so we are trying to change that image. The intention is to blur the demarcations between civilian and military.” This is a frightening testament to the militarization of U.S. society, in which exporting American values now becomes equated with exporting the U.S. military.

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One thought on “AFRICOM is Everywhere

  1. I think the alarmist tone overwhelms the substance of this story.

    How is the U.S. military “leaving..in its wake” the State Dept. and USAID? $6.5 million is nothing compared to what the U.S. spends on emergency relief and food aid. Building bridges and physical infrastructure doesn’t exactly trump agricultural extension services, training for democratic governance, etc.

    I agree that there is danger in using a tool (the U.S. military) for an ill-suited task (development). The global aid industry already has enough in common with the military industrial complex – it’s not surprising they find synergy. Especially not in a system where “aid” is still primarily a State-to-State interaction, more a carrot/stick between governments rather than genuine assistance for citizens of other countries. Aid for Ethiopia, Rwanda, Israel and Egypt come to mind.

    Physical infrastructure and security are important, but you can’t really aid a country’s development without mutually respectful engagement with entrepreneurs and civil society groups – neither soldiers nor military contractors nor anyone else more beholden to the U.S. government than the developing country itself can do that. There is an obvious need for substantive engagement, and ordinary citizens/businesses/groups still aren’t filling that gap. Whether the U.S. military, USAID or State Dept., they’re all using more outside contractors than local workers – more “photo opportunities” than equipping people to do things for themselves, or aiding in the creation of real wealth.

    So what’s happening here is symptomatic of something more real than a “militarization” of American society. That’s a non-sequitor.

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