The US appears to have a “sprawling network” of military outposts in Africa, including previously undisclosed or unconfirmed sites in Niger, Libya and Somalia, the Intercept reported.
The US military has insisted that it has a “light footprint” in Africa and there have also been reports of proposed drawdowns in special operations forces and closures of outposts. There is also an apparent increase in focus on China and Russia.
US African Command has provided little evidence to back up their claims. On December 1st, the Intercept published an article by Nick Turse, which discloses documents received via the Freedom of Information Act.
“The Pentagon has also told The Intercept that troop reductions in Africa will be modest and phased-in over several years and that no outposts are expected to close as a result of the personnel cuts.”
According to a 2018 briefing by AFRICOM science adviser Peter E. Teil, the military’s constellation of bases includes 34 sites scattered across the continent, with high concentrations in the north and west as well as the Horn of Africa. There are also numerous drone attacks and low-profile commando operations to go with the military bases. Libya appears to be home to three previously undisclosed bases.
“U.S. Africa Command’s posture plan is designed to secure strategic access to key locations on a continent characterized by vast distances and limited infrastructure,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander, told the House Armed Services Committee earlier this year, though he didn’t provide specifics on the number of bases. “Our posture network allows forward staging of forces to provide operational flexibility and timely response to crises involving U. S. personnel or interests without creating the optic that U. S. Africa Command is militarizing Africa.”
According to Adam Moore, an assistant professor of geography at the University of California in Los Angeles and an expert on the U.S. military’s presence in Africa, “It is getting harder for the U.S. military to plausibly claim that it has a ‘light footprint’ in Africa. In just the past five years, it has established what is perhaps the largest drone complex in the world in Djibouti — Chabelley — which is involved in wars on two continents, Yemen and Somalia.”
Furthermore, Moor said that the US building an even larger drone base in Adagez, Niger.
“Certainly, for people living in Somalia, Niger and Djibouti, the notion that the U.S. is not militarizing their countries rings false,” he added.
Over the previous 10 years, AFRICOM has painted a completely different pictures – US military presence is limited in scope, the military outposts are small, temporary and simple local bases, which simply house Americans similarly to a roadhouse.
“For instance, this is how Gen. Waldhauser described a low-profile drone outpost in Tunisia last year: “And it’s not our base, it’s the Tunisians’ base.” On a visit to a U.S. facility in Senegal this summer, the AFRICOM chief took pains to emphasize that the U.S. had no intension of establishing a permanent base there.”
Air Forces Africa, AFRICOM’s air component, has recently completed or is currently working on almost 30 construction projects across four countries in Africa.
“The U.S. footprint on the African continent has grown markedly over the last decade to promote U.S. security interests on the continent,” Navy Commander Candice Tresch, a Pentagon spokesperson was cited by the outlet.
The standoff for Africa is apparent, with the US, the UK and France being on one side and Russia and China being on the other.
“While China, France, Russia, and the United Arab Emirates have increased their own military engagement in Africa in recent years and a number of countries now possess outposts on the continent, none approach the wide-ranging U.S. footprint. China, for example, has just one base in Africa – a facility in Djibouti.”
The documents show that AFRICOM has larger “enduring” outposts, which include forward operating sites (FOSes) and cooperative security locations (CSLs), as well as more numerous austere sites known as contingency locations (CLs). All of them are on the continent, with the exception of 1 FOS, on Britain’s Ascension Island.
Teil’s briefing confirms that the US military has more sites in Niger than in any other country in Africa: five, including two cooperative security locations.
All U.S. military facilities in Somalia, by virtue of being contingency locations, are unnamed on AFRICOM’s 2018 map. Kismayo had been identified as a key outpost, the declassified 2015 AFRICOM posture plan names proposed CLs in Baidoa, Bosaaso, and the capital, Mogadishu, as well as Berbera in Somaliland. If Teil’s map is accurate, one is actually within Somaliland.
Kenya, boasts four U.S. bases. These include cooperative security locations at Mombasa as well as Manda Bay, where a 2013 Pentagon study of secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen noted that two manned fixed-wing aircraft were then based. The 2015 posture plan also mentioned contingency locations at Lakipia, a Kenyan Air Force base, and a Kenyan airfield in Wajir, that was upgraded and expanded by the US Navy a few years ago.
In Libya, Teil’s map shows three unnamed and previously undisclosed contingency locations near the coastline.
The map also shows a contingency location in Tunisia, possibly Sidi Ahmed Air Base, a key regional U.S. drone outpost that has played an important role in air strikes in Libya in recent years.
“You know, flying intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance drones out of Tunisia has been taking place for quite some time,” said Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander, last year.
“[W]e fly there, it’s not a secret, but we are very respectful to the Tunisians’ desires in terms of, you know, how we support them and the fact that we have [a] low profile…”
“Djibouti is home to the crown jewel of U.S. bases on the continent, Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion outpost and AFRICOM’s lone forward operating site on the continent. A longtime hub for counterterrorism operations in Yemen and Somalia and the home of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF–HOA), Camp Lemonnier hosts around 4,000 U.S. and allied personnel, and, according to Teil, is the “main platform” for U.S. crisis response forces in Africa.”
There are two contingency locations in Cameroon. Two in Mali. And one cooperative security location in Gabon’s Libreville. There are bases in Accra, Ghana and Dakar, Senegal. Only one base lies in the far south of the continent, a CSL in Botswana’s capital, Gaborone, that is run by the Army. To the north is CSL Entebbe in Uganda.
For months the US Department of Defense claimed that there would be a major drawdown of Special Operations forces in Africa as well as the closure of military outposts in Tunisia, Cameroon, Libya and Kenya. Now, it appears that the Pentagon plans to withdraw only 10% of forces over the next several years and no bases will close.
“The proliferation of bases in the Sahel, Libya, and Horn of Africa suggests that AFRICOM’s counterterrorism missions in those regions of the continent will continue indefinitely,” Adam Moore was cited by the Intercept.
On October 26th, the Pentagon named six companies under a potential five-year, $240 million contract for design and construction services for naval facilities in Africa. The first project would be the expansion of the tarmac at Camp Lemmonier in Djibouti.
Thus, the standoff between China and Russia on one side and the US, the UK and France on the other shows no promise of ending. China continues exercising its soft power on the continent, with Russia also increasing its military cooperation with countries in the region such as the Central African Republic.