A new report published in South African newspaper The Mail and Guardian has provided some details on the US military presence in Africa. Last year, US Special Operations forces were active in 22 African countries. This accounts for 14% of all American commandos deployed overseas, the largest number for any region besides the Middle East. US troops were also directly involved in combat operations in 13 African nations.
The US is not officially at war with an African nation, and the continent is rarely discussed in reference to US military activities around the globe. Therefore, when US soldiers die in Africa, as happened in Niger, Mali, and Somalia in 2018, the response from the public, and even from the media is often “why are US soldiers there in the first place?”
The presence of the US military, especially commandos, in African countries is seldom acknowledged, either by Washington or by African governments. What they are doing remains even more opaque. U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) generally claims that its commando forces are involved in so-called “AAA” (advise, assist and accompany) missions. Yet in a combat situation, the role between adviser and participant can evaporate in an instant.
The United States has approximately 6,000 military personnel scattered throughout the continent, with military attachés outnumbering diplomats in many embassies across Africa. Earlier this year, The Intercept reported that the military operates 29 bases in Africa. One of these is a huge drone hub in Niger, something The Hill called “the largest U.S. Air Force-led construction project of all time.” The construction cost alone was over $100 million, with total operating costs expected to top $280 million by 2024. Equipped with Reaper drones, the US can now conduct cross border bombing raids all over the North and West of Africa.
Washington claims that the military’s primary role in the region is to combat the rise of extremist forces. In recent years, a number of Jihadist groups have arisen, including Al-Shabaab, Boko Haram, and other al-Qaeda affiliated groups. However, much of the reason for their creation and rapid growth can be traced back to previous US actions, including the destabilization of Yemen, Somalia, and the overthrow of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya.
The United States also plays a key role in training many nations’ soldiers and security forces, whether directly or indirectly. For example, the US pays Bancroft International, a private military contractor, to train Somali military units that are at the forefront of the fighting in the country’s internal conflicts. According to The Mail and Guardian, these Somali fighters are likely also funded by the US taxpayer.
The US military also occupies the island of Diego Garcia in the Indian Ocean, claimed by the African island nation of Mauritius. In the 1960s and 1970s, the British government expelled the entire local population, dumping them in slums in Mauritius, where most still live. The United States now uses the island as a military base and a nuclear weapons storage facility. The island served as a critical logistical and operational hub for US military activities during both Iraq Wars and continues to be a major threat, casting a nuclear shadow over the Middle East, East Africa, and South Asia.
While there is much condemnation in Western corporate media of China’s imperialist motives in Africa, there is very little discussion of the continuing neo-colonial roles of the US, France or the United Kingdom throughout the continent. While China operates one base in the Horn of Africa and has greatly increased its economic role on the continent, the thousands of US troops operating in dozens of countries scarcely seem to exist and they remain a complete mystery, even for many of those directly impacted by the military presence who have no idea from where those hellfire missiles or heavily armed men came from or why they are there. LINK
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