"The United States has only one official base in Africa," Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, UPI noted on Wednesday, but reported that it has been "building a network of bases in Italy as launch pads for military interventions in Africa and the Mideast."[1]  --  "But small units are deployed across Africa.   --  Meantime, the Americans have established a network of bases in Italy, involving a significant manpower shift southward from the old Cold War bastion of Germany."  --  Already, back in June, Reuters reported that "the U.S. military has returned to Africa," observing that "with some 4,000-5,000 personnel on the ground at any given time, the United States now has more troops in Africa than at any point since its Somalia intervention two decades ago."[2]  --  "[S]maller U.S. operations and outreach programs often with only a handful of troops are key to the strategy of winning influence in a continent where China has surpassed the United States as the No.1 trade partner and has huge mining, energy, and infrastructure investments," said Peter Apps.  --  However, on Thursday a piece in Stars and Stripes lamented excessive militarization of U.S. foreign policy in Africa.[3] ...



October 16, 2013


The U.S. deployment of 200 Marines to a naval base in Sicily for possible operations in Libya, a short hop across the Mediterranean, underlines how the Americans have been building a network of bases in Italy as launch pads for military interventions in Africa and the Mideast.

The signs are that 20 years after the American military's first, and costly, encounter with Muslim militants in Mogadishu, Somalia, U.S. operations in Africa are growing as the Islamist threat expands.

Another key factor is President Barack Obama's switch in his counter-terror strategy from drone strikes against al-Qaida to pinpoint raids by small Special Forces teams, as seen in Somalia and Libya on Oct. 5.

These were triggered by Islamist violence in both countries, including the Sept. 21 seizure of the Westgate shopping mall inl Nairobi, capital of Kenya, by fighters of Somalia's al-Qaida affiliate, al-Shabaab, that left at least 67 people dead.

The SEAL Team 6 seaborne raid on the Somali coastal town of Barawe to capture al-Shabaab mastermind Abdulkadir Mohamed Abdulkadir,a Kenyan of Somalia origin, ran into heavier than expected resistance and had to be aborted.

But the U.S. Army's Delta Force had more success in its raid on Tripoli when they grabbed longtime al-Qaida fugitive Nazih Abdul-Hamed al-Ruqai, aka Abu Anas al-Libi, indicted by a U.S. court in 2000 for the August 1988 bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, that killed 224 people.

These raids reflect a U.S. move away from the kind of risk-averse operations the Americans have been mounting with missile-firing drones to on-the-ground raids against high-value targets.

The abhorrence of risk stemmed largely from of the psychological fallout over the October 1993 operation in Mogadishu to capture Somali warlord Mohamed Farah Aidid that went badly wrong and led to the downing of two U.S. helicopters and the deaths of 18 Rangers and Special Forces troopers.

Obama's visit to Africa in June-July was widely seen as evidence of the White House's broader foreign policy objectives which have included an expansion of U.S. military operations across Africa.

Many of these involve small-scale "secret wars" against Islamists, mainly linked to al-Qaida and often carried out under the aegis of the U.S. Africa Command established in 2007.

"Both the number and complexity of U.S. military operations in Africa will continue to grow in the medium term," observed Oxford Analytica.

"Given the relatively high impact contribution they make to Washington's strategic goals, such military operations will also increasingly encroach on domains traditionally associated with development and diplomacy.

"However, they will also increasingly commit the United States to an 'intervention-led' foreign policy in Africa."

Although Africom and the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command claim they have a small footprint in Africa, over the last year or so they've been increasingly active in building up a U.S. military presence -- and especially reach -- across the continent.

The United States has only one official base in Africa, the counter-terrorism facility at Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti, East Africa, where Special Forces, strike jets, and armed unmanned aerial vehicles are based.

But small units are deployed across Africa.  Meantime, the Americans have established a network of bases in Italy, involving a significant manpower shift southward from the old Cold War bastion of Germany.

The Marines moved to Italy from Spain this month are the vanguard of a larger force dubbed Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force-Crisis Response.

It was established after the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi, Libya, in which U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens and three other Americans were killed.

According to U.S. security specialist David Vine, the Pentagon has spent around $2 billion -- and that's just construction costs -- "shifting its European center of gravity south from Germany" and transforming Italy "into a launching pad for future wars in Africa, the Middle East and beyond."

The Marines are being moved to the Naval Air Station at Sigonella on Sicily, which will eventually have a force of 1,000 Marines with its main focus Libya, 100 miles across the Med.

Vines estimates there are now 13,000 U.S. troops in Italy at Sigonella and some 50 other facilities like Vicenza, a former Italian air force base near Venice, with the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), a rapid response force.



By Peter Apps

June 27, 2013


Striking Islamist militants with drones, supporting African forces in stabilizing Somalia, and Mali and deploying dozens of training teams, the U.S. military has returned to Africa.

Its presence remains mostly low key, barely mentioned in the context of President Barack Obama's visit this week to Africa.

Nevertheless, with some 4,000-5,000 personnel on the ground at any given time, the United States now has more troops in Africa than at any point since its Somalia intervention two decades ago.  That ended in humiliation and withdrawal after the 1993 "Blackhawk Down" debacle in which 18 U.S. soldiers died.

There are two main reasons behind the build up:  to counter al Qaeda and other militant groups, and to win influence in a continent that could become an increasingly important destination for American trade and investment as China's presence grows in Africa.

Obama's eight-day trip is heavily focused not on military issues but on trade and economic development in visits to Senegal, South Africa, and Tanzania.

In the Horn of Africa, the vast majority of U.S. forces deployed in Africa are at a major French military base in Djibouti, a tiny country sandwiched between northern Somalia, Ethiopia, and Eritrea.

While U.S. officials will not comment in detail on what happens at the base, experts say it has provided a staging post for occasional special forces deployments and drone and air attacks against Islamist militant targets in Somalia.

Dramatic as those actions are, smaller U.S. operations and outreach programs often with only a handful of troops are key to the strategy of winning influence in a continent where China has surpassed the United States as the No.1 trade partner and has huge mining, energy, and infrastructure investments.

Such limited missions, U.S. officers say, have gone a long way to reducing initial African skepticism over Germany-based AFRICOM, set up in 2008 to bring all U.S. military activity in Africa under one unified command, rather than dividing responsibility between commanders in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

"We are focusing on building human capital," says Major General Charles Hooper, head of strategy and plans at AFRICOM.  "The smaller missions can be some of the most effective when it comes to gaining trust."

In Angola, Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and elsewhere, U.S. engineers have helped train local counterparts in landmine clearance.  In southern Africa, military medics have helped local armies tackle HIV infection while in Mauritania, the focus has been on veterinary aid to local ranchers.

U.S. warships combating piracy off both East and West Africa are increasingly frequent visitors to local ports.

One U.S. aim is to convince African militaries their interests are best served by remaining democratically accountable and not interfering in politics.

Some operations, however, have hit just that problem.  The hunt in Central African Republic for Ugandan warlord and head of the rebel Lord's Resistance Army Joseph Kony has largely been suspended following a March coup in CAR.

The anti-LRA mission had been the only one in Africa in which combat troops were deployed, involving just over 100 U.S. special forces personnel.  U.S. forces continue to train Ugandan and other armies as part of that operation.


Critics in Africa complain Washington's approach to the continent has become increasingly militarized and focused on counterterrorism.  Others worry U.S. military clout may ultimately be used to seize resources.

Administration officials disagree and point to Obama's visit as evidence of U.S. intentions.

"This trip ultimately disproves the notion that we're somehow securitizing the relationship with Africa," Deputy National Security Adviser Ben Rhodes told a conference call last week.  "This trip is expressly devoted to trade and investment, democratic institution-building, young people, and unleashing economic growth through some of our development priority."

In general, U.S. forces have only been able to operate when African governments -- or sometimes France, which maintains a network of bases in former colonies -- allow them to.

Permission can be quickly withdrawn for political reasons.

In April, Morocco canceled its annual Exercise African Lion with U.S. forces after a suggestion from Washington that U.N. monitors in the disputed Western Sahara region should extend their mandate to include human rights.

The United States still treads carefully in Somalia, the scene of a serious reverse in 1993 when militia fighters killed 18 Americans on a mission to capture a Somali warlord in support of a U.N. mission.

U.S. officials say there are often one or two U.S. liaison officers deployed inside Somalia helping African Union forces fight Islamist group al Shabaab -- which is linked to al Qaeda -- on behalf of Somalia's transitional government.

Most of the U.S. support for the African Union mission AMISOM remains outside the country, training forces in Kenya, Uganda, and elsewhere.

It is a similar picture on the other side of the continent, where the U.S. military is also acting primarily in support of local nations and France.

The aftermath of the 2011 Libya war has seen a flood of weapons and militants across the Sahel, fueling the rise of al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb which briefly captured much of northern Mali before a French offensive there earlier this year.

The U.S. Air Force provided much of the transport for both African and French reinforcements in Mali, while U.S. air tankers from RAF Mildenhall in England have flown long missions over the Sahara refueling French combat jets.

Some 100 U.S. personnel deployed to Niger to set up a drone base.  Unlike in East Africa, however, the drones will be unarmed and used only for reconnaissance to track Islamist militants.

U.S. and African officials say Washington has long been reluctant to share its most sophisticated intelligence with African partners, in part over worries it might fall into the wrong hands.

African officers say that if they are to be truly effective at fighting militants in their own countries and as part of broader Mali-type missions, they need to know as much as possible about rebel movements, locations, and plans.

"The Americans are our friends -- but often they are friends who are not frank," says former Senegalese army chief Mansour Seck, also an ex-ambassador to Washington.  "They have a tendency to ask you what you have but will not tell you what they have."

(Editing by Alistair Bell)



By John Vandiver

Stars and Stripes

October 17, 2013


STUTTGART -- Is the U.S. “pivoting” toward Africa?

The U.S. commando raids earlier this month in Somalia and Libya have some pundits floating the idea that the U.S. could be in the early stages of a strategic swing toward Africa.  The idea has already been hash-tagged on Twitter as a kind of counterpoint to the much touted U.S. strategic shift to Asia.

With misrule and weak governance casting an arc of instability across a large swath of Africa, the region at times seems almost front and center as U.S policymakers fret over the range of threats from home-grown terrorist groups in Somalia, Nigeria, and the Maghreb that have loose ties to al-Qaida and increasingly seem to be developing ties with each other.

The U.S. has responded with a surge of Africa-focused military activity.  In addition to training African militaries at the forefront of counter-terrorism efforts, the U.S. recently launched two southern Europe-based Marine Air Ground Task Forces focused on crisis response, which have been put on alert multiple times in the past few months.  In addition, there’s a growing constellation of small U.S. drone outposts:  in Niger, bordering troublespots Libya and Mali, in Ethiopia, a gateway to Somalia, and a larger military base of operations at Camp Lemonier in Djibouti, strategically placed on the Gulf of Aden.

Going forward, the U.S. and its Africa Command appear well positioned to press ahead with counter-terrorism efforts.  It's the culmination of a near decade-long, laser-like focus on security threats emanating from Africa.  Those efforts picked up steam since the formation of AFRICOM in 2007.

Yet some experts caution that such attention has skewed how Africa is viewed, resulting in an overly militarized outlook that sees an Islamic militant threat and little else.  The risk, experts warn, is that isolated regional threats get conflated into something bigger.

“I don’t see a pivot,” said John Campbell, a former ambassador to Nigeria and senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations.  “I think what it does represent is a militarization of policy towards Africa.  And it’s just sort of happening willy-nilly.”

The Obama administration’s so-called Asia pivot is spurred by the rise of China as a heavyweight on the world stage, and the nuclear threat from North Korea, as well as massive business markets.  There are no such overriding threats, nor stable economic interests in Africa, experts say, and there is little indication that the U.S. is laying the groundwork for taking advantage of the resources Africa does have to offer in the near future, analysts say.

“The focus is very narrow,” Campbell said.  “Part of the problem is a remarkable lack of sophistication about what is going on in Africa and that in turn affects things like the reduction in diplomatic staff and the closure of consulates over the years.”

When AFRICOM was first launched, critics at the time worried that it was a signal of a militarizing foreign policy toward the continent.  Some of those fears have been realized as U.S. policy increasingly gets viewed through a military lens, Campbell said.

While groups such as al-Shabab in Somalia and al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb have not demonstrated a capacity to launch attacks beyond the continent, they can target Western interests in Africa, as demonstrated by the dramatic and deadly attack last month by al-Shabab militants on an upscale shopping mall in the Kenyan capital, frequented by foreigners.

Military commanders, including retired Gen. Carter Ham, a former head of AFRICOM, have raised concerns about the potential for various regional terrorist groups to link up and their aspirations to strike beyond Africa.  Increasingly, U.S. policymakers are talking about terrorists in Africa posing a direct threat to the United States.  That was the justification for the twin operations Oct. 5, when special forces grabbed Abu Anas al-Libi, suspected of playing a role in the 1998 U.S. embassy bombings in Tanzania and Kenya, in the Libyan capital and an aborted mission to capture a senior al-Shabab leader from a coastal town in Somalia.

However, critics argue that viewing all regional groups as posing a common, universal threat is misguided.

“There seems to be an inability or a reluctance to acknowledge that the terrorism is not coordinated or uniform, but rather reflects the individual circumstances of where it takes place,” Campbell said.

Steve McDonald, a former foreign service officer who now serves as an Africa program director at the Wilson International Center for Scholars, says the U.S. should be investing more effort in developing trade partnerships and economic incentives for engaging in Africa, where investments lag when compared to other parts of the world.  Such efforts would help bring about more security over the long-term, he said.

“I don’t really see any kind of pivot to Africa,” McDonald said.  “My mantra is that while we have our global trade initiatives with Europe and Asia, we still don’t have any mechanism like that in Africa.  You have to pay attention to the terrorism piece, but that seems to be the only bell we hear, and when it rings, suddenly we’re engaged.”

While the U.S. has ramped up its military activities in Africa, the overall footprint still remains small when compared to its overseas presence in Asia and Europe.  For example, the U.S. troop presence on the entire continent of Africa is roughly equal to the 5,000 or so troops stationed in the tiny garrison town of Baumholder, Germany.  There is room to grow in Africa, as signaled by the recent rise of drone outposts and Africa-focused U.S. Marine and Army units that rotate around Africa.

But for now, the U.S. formula in Africa appears set:  More U.S. military training of regional militaries fighting extremists in places like Somalia and Mali; occasional U.S.-led strikes against high-level terror operatives; and a steady stream of drone surveillance.  That mode of operation will likely ebb and flow as threats materialize and fade.

The hard economic realities across much of Africa, more than anything else, could explain why there is no more expansive U.S. pivot on the near horizon.  While many African economies are growing, the scale of those markets is small when compared to traditional trade partners in Europe, Asia and even Latin America.

“Africa is still a hard sell,” said McDonald.  “The American businessman is very conservative and very risk averse.”

Still, numerous other nations are hard-charging into Africa.  China’s quest for resources in Africa has been well documented.  Brazil and India also have emerged as large players.  Even Turkey has gotten into the game, with its flagship airline operating flights into war-ravaged Somalia.

That has prompted some to ponder whether the U.S. is missing out in the scramble for footing in a rising Africa.

Campbell says while many African nations are on the upswing, the opportunities shouldn’t be overstated.

“Africa as a whole amounts to only two percent of world trade.  There’s not a huge incentive for getting involved,” Campbell said.  “I hear people saying we’re missing the boat in Africa.  It tends to imply there’s this great big boat to be missed.”

So, don’t look for a pivot toward Africa anytime soon, McDonald said.  “I think it’s going to take a generation,” he said.  “It will probably take 20 years before people start to look at Africa as even a normal place” for doing business.”