Why is the U.S. expanding its military presence in Africa?

By Nickolas Ashipunda

SOME time ago Ezekiel Pajibo, the former head of Liberia’s Center for Democratic Empowerment and a strong critic of AFRICOM, became convinced that the true driver of AFRICOM is America’s growing need for African oil.

Since last December, this aim was complemented by Donald Trump’s guideline of countering the influence of Russia and China on the continent, predicated on the National Defense Strategy, which calls for increased focus on near-peer competitors.

For these two purposes the U.S. is building new military installations all over the continent. There are dozens of US military installations in Africa, besides Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. These numerous cooperative security locations (CSLs), forward operating locations (FOLs) and other outposts have been built by the US in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda.

US military also have access to locations in Algeria, Botswana, São Tomé and Príncipe, Sierra Leone, Tunisia, and other countries. In addition the US is increasing the number of military operations in Africa.

The continent “has more named operations than any other theatre, including CENTCOM [the command that oversees the Middle East],” said retired Brig. Gen. Donald Bolduc, who served as commander of Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA) from April 2015 to June 2017.

“We had them in Tunisia. We had them in Mali. We had them in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Chad. But those were kept as quiet as possible. Nobody talked about them.”

Indeed, the United States has conducted more than 30 named operations and activities in Africa over the last three years, according to documents obtained by VICE News. In 2017, U.S. troops carried out an average of nearly 10 missions per day - 3,500 exercises, programs, and engagements for the year - across the African continent, according to Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander.

These efforts were conducted in at least 33 countries. Americans are also gathering intelligence, involved in surveillance and reconnaissance missions carried out by drones. There are also now 34 U.S. military outposts on the continent, concentrated in the north and west and the Horn of Africa, according to a recent report by The Intercept.

Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), AFRICOM provided VICE News with a list of 21 named operations conducted between 1 January 2016 and 25 September 2018. A separate Defense Department document, marked “For Official Use Only,” that appears to have been posted online inadvertently, lists 12 named activities not on AFRICOM’s list, including eight in the east and another four in the northwest.

“Running so many operations with combat implications without making them known to the American public is ultimately undemocratic. It is no way to run foreign policy in a democracy,” said Bill Hartung, the director of the Arms and Security Project at the Center for International Policy. Bolduc also criticised the lack of transparency on the part of AFRICOM. “What we’re doing shouldn’t be a mystery,” he said.

The Pentagon told VICE News that the total number of troops assigned to AFRICOM (about 7,200 personnel) would be cut by less than 10 percent over several years, as it reviews its priority areas on the continent and reorients itself toward great power rivals.

But according to Thomas Waldhauser, “few, if any, troops will be cut from hotspots like Libya and Somalia, nor Djibouti, whose bases also play a pivotal role in U.S. operations in Yemen and the greater Middle East”.

Nor will any region of the continent see all U.S. forces removed. Troop draw-downs in West Africa will be marked by a shift from tactical-level support to a greater emphasis on advising, training and intelligence-sharing, he said.

The Trump administration’s planned U.S. troop reduction in Africa over the next two years will be minimal and won’t undercut the United States’ ability to counter China and Russia. AFRICOM will remove fewer than 130 special operations troops across the continent by June 2020.

A second tranche of cuts, part of an overall 10-percent reduction slated to take place by late 2021, might not even happen, the general added.

Summarising up it becomes evident that by sending their troops to Africa all White House administrations were driven exclusively by their own interests. This raises the question whether their military presence on the continent is necessary for the African countries? My answer is negative.

Moreover, it’s becoming dangerous for us since the US is planning to launch military operations against its foes on African soil. We are already sort of overwhelmed by interminable wars in different parts of our continent and we don’t need additional battles.

In this regard I would like to call on all African states to follow the example of SADC and to ban the presence on their territories of US troops.