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America's new warfare in Africa

By Nick Turse
Lion Forward Teams. Echo Casemate. Juniper Micron. You could be forgiven if this jumble of words looks like nonsense to you. It isn't. It's the language of the US military's simmering African interventions; the patois that goes with a set of missions carried out in countries most Americans couldn't locate on a map; the argot of conflicts now primarily fought by proxies and a former colonial power on a continent that the US military views as a hotbed of instability and that hawkish pundits increasingly see as a growth area for future armed interventions.

Since 9 /11, the US military has been making inroads in Africa, building alliances, facilities and a sophisticated logistics network.

Despite repeated assurances by US Africa Command (Africom) that military activities on the continent were minuscule, a 2013 investigation by TomDispatch exposed surprisingly large and expanding US operations - including recent military involvement with no fewer than 49 of 54 nations on the continent.

Washington's goal continues to be building these nations into stable partners with robust, capable militaries, as well as creating regional bulwarks favourable to its strategic interests in Africa. Yet over the last years, the results have often confounded the planning - with American operations serving as a catalyst for blow-back (to use a term of CIA tradecraft). A US-backed uprising in Libya, for instance, helped spawn hundreds of militias that have increasingly caused chaos in that country, leading to repeated attacks on Western interests and the killing of the US ambassador and three other Americans.

Tunisia has become ever more destabilised, according to a top US commander in the region. Kenya and Algeria were hit by spectacular, large-scale terrorist attacks that left Americans dead or wounded. South Sudan, a fledgling nation Washington recently midwifed into being that has been slipping into civil war, now has more than 870,000 displaced persons, is facing an imminent hunger crisis and has recently been the site of mass atrocities, including rapes and killings.

French connection Today, the US is pioneering a 21st century brand of expeditionary warfare that involves backing both France and the armies of its former colonial charges as Washington tries to accomplish its policy aims in Africa with a limited expenditure of blood and treasure. In an op-ed for the Washington Post, president Barack Obama and French president François Hollande outlined their efforts in glowing terms about their involvement in Africa from Mali and CAR.

Missing from their joint piece, however, was any hint of the Western failures that facilitated the debacles in Mali and the Central African Republic, the continued crises plaguing those nations, or the potential for mission creep, unintended consequences, and future blowback from this new brand of coalition warfare.

The US military, for its part, isn't saying much about current efforts in these two African nations, but official documents obtained by TomDispatch through the Freedom of Information Act offer telling details, while experts are sounding alarms about the ways in which these military interventions have already fallen short or failed.

Operation Juniper Micron After 9/ 11, through programmes like the Pan-Sahel Initiative and the Trans-Saharan Counter-terrorism Partnership, the US has pumped hundreds of millions of dollars into training and arming the militaries of Mali, Niger, Chad, Mauritania, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia in order to promote "stability."

In 2013, Captain J Dane Thorleifson, the outgoing commander of an elite, quick-response force known as Naval Special Warfare Unit 10, described such efforts as training "proxy" forces in order to build "critical host nation security capacity; enabling, advising, and assisting our African CT (counter-terror) partner forces so they can swiftly counter and destroy al-Shabab, AQIM (Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb) and Boko Haram. "In other words, the US military is in the business of training African armies as the primary tactical forces combatting local Islamic militant groups. The first returns on Washington's new and developing form of "light footprint" warfare in Africa have hardly been stellar.

After US and French forces helped to topple Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi in 2011, neighbouring Mali went from bulwark to basket case. - Tom Dispatch.com.


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