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The US Military’s African “Footprint”

The United States Africa Command, otherwise known as AFRICOM, describes its mission like this: “United States Africa Command, in concert with interagency and international partners, builds defense capabilities, responds to crisis, and deters and defeats transnational threats in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability, and prosperity.” Like every other Pentagon mission, the security this mission statement refers to is the security of the financial, political and military establishment of the United States. It is useful to point out that the statement does not mention aspects of the mission that even pretend to be for the betterment of the people actually living in the countries where AFRICOM troops are stationed. In part, this is because they are not a priority. The other reason is that they barely exist.51aJTpNmUJL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Just like in Iraq and Afghanistan, humanitarian projects like schools and clinics for civilians are rarely completed or are not built at all; the funds going directly into the pockets of US corporations and local officials instead. For anyone who has followed the numerous operations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of this millennium, they know that this has become the standard operating procedure for the Pentagon and its political co-conspirators in Washington and Wall Street. This is but one reason it is despised by many in the world.

Most US residents have probably never heard of AFRICOM nor could they point out on a map where the countries are located that where it operates. Journalist Nick Turse’s recently released book Tomorrow’s Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa aims to at the least make more of the people paying for this military intervention aware of AFRICOM and its mission. Essentially a series of investigative articles that appeared over the course of 2014, Tomorrow’s Battlefield is a fairly detailed laundry list of secret operations, military maneuvers, army and air force facilities creation, and other such phenomena undertaken by the US military in Africa. What becomes clear as one reads this text is that the US military in Africa is essentially on a war footing and is expanding rapidly. Furthermore, the foreign policy behind this expansion seems muddled at best–much like that in Afghanistan and the Middle East–and grounded in what is an essentially colonialist mindset. In other words, Washington assumes it knows what is best for the people whose land it is operating on. As history makes clear, when arrogance like this informs the foreign policy of a nation, the citizens of foreign lands often suffer.

Two examples of the aforementioned arrogance and its consequences that come forth in this book revolve around the recently formed country called South Sudan. Despite helping to create the this new nation and installing its government, Washington is now supporting a rebel force trying to overthrow that entity. Meanwhile China is supporting the government once considered Washington’s ally. Important to both outside nations is the oil underneath the surface of South Sudan. In discussing this situation, Turse raises the question of the role economic competition plays in the military buildup that is the topic of the book. Just as it has been for centuries, the continent of Africa remains a source of raw materials and cheap labor. From Turse’s telling, this would seem to be Washington’s primary motivation for its increasing presence there. Indeed, articles in military publications have compared the current US military involvement in Africa to the Banana Wars in Latin America in the twentieth century. China, on the other hand, also understands that with economic development will come an expanded market for finished goods as well. Consequently, Beijing is tailoring its involvement towards development that provides education, health and education. While both nations desire the resources abundant on the continent, Beijing’s approach curries more favor than Washington’s militaristic one. This isn’t to say that China has no military involvement. As Turse points out, the fact that China has become more capitalist has caused it to expand its economic reach to satisfy the needs of its economy. It has also committed military troops to defend its investments. However, its mission is not primarily military like Washington’s.

Although it seems fair to state that the US military presence in Africa would have increased no matter who was in the White House the past seven years, it is interesting to note that it has seen its greatest expansion while an African-American man sat in the Oval Office. Of course, at one time Africans sold other Africans into slavery. Tomorrow’s Battlefield provides a fairly detailed introduction to what Washington is up to in the countries of the African continent. Unfortunately, if Turse is correct, it is only the first of many such books with a similar focus.

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Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

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