U.S. Expanding Military Role in Africa Under Obama
Training: An unidentified U.S. soldier (left) directs Mali army troops during a training exercise. Mali is one of nine African nations whose armies are being trained to combat al-Qaida by U.S. forces. The training is part of an overall expansion of U.S. military assistance to Africa -- including arms sales and training programs -- in the 15 months since President Obama took office. (Photo: Luc Gnago/Reuters)
(Posted 5:00 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 13, 2010)
By DANIEL VOLMAN
When President Obama took office 15 months ago, it was widely expected that he would dramatically change, or even reverse, the militarized and unilateral security policy that had been pursued by the Bush administration toward Africa, as well as toward other parts of the world.
After more than a year in office, however, it is clear that the Obama administration is following essentially the same policy that has guided U.S. military policy toward Africa for more than a decade. Indeed, the Obama administration is seeking to expand U.S. military activities on the continent even further.
In its fiscal year 2011 budget request for security-assistance programs for Africa, the Obama administration is asking for $38 million for the foreign military financing program to pay for U.S. arms sales to African countries.
The administration is also asking for $21 million for the international military education and training program to bring African military officers to the United States, and $24.4 million for anti-terrorism assistance programs in Africa.
U.S. HIKES SUPPLIES OF ARMS TO SOMALI ARMY TO FIGHT INSURGENTS
The Obama administration has also taken a number of other steps in the past year to expand U.S. military involvement in Africa.
Last June, administration officials revealed that Obama had approved a program to supply at least 40 tons of weaponry and provide training to the forces of the transitional government of Somalia through several intermediaries, including Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, and France.
In September, Obama authorized a U.S. Special Forces operation in Somalia that killed Saleh Ali Nabhan, an alleged al-Qaida operative who was accused of being involved in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, as well as other al-Qaida operations in east Africa.
In October, the Obama administration announced a major new security assistance package for Mali - valued at 4.5 to 5.0 million dollars - that included 37 Land Cruiser pickup trucks, communication equipment, replacement parts, clothing and other individual equipment and was intended to enhance Mali's ability to transport and communicate with internal security forces throughout the country and control its borders.
Although ostensibly intended to help Mali deal with potential threats from al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), it is more likely to be used against Tuareg insurgent forces.
PENTAGON CONSIDERING NEW MARINE STRIKE FORCE FOR AFRICA, IF NEEDED
Last December, U.S. military officials confirmed that the Pentagon was considering the creation of a 1,000-strong Marine rapid deployment force for the new U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), based in Europe, which could be used to intervene in African hot spots.
Two months ago, in his testimony before a hearing by the Africa Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Assistant Secretary of State for Africa Johnnie Carson declared, "We seek to enhance Nigeria's role as a U.S. partner on regional security, but we also seek to bolster its ability to combat violent extremism within its borders."
Also in February, U.S. Special Forces troops began a 30-million-dollar, eight-month-long training programme for a 1,000-man infantry battalion of the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the U.S.-refurbished base in Kisangani.
Speaking before a Senate Armed Service Committee hearing in March 2010 about this training programme, General William Ward, the commander of AFRICOM, stated "should it prove successful, there's potential that it could be expanded to other battalions as well."
During the Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, Ward also discussed AFRICOM's continuing participation in Ugandan military operations in the DRC against the Lord's Resistance Army. Despite the failure of "Operation Lightning Thunder," launched by Ugandan troops in December 2008 with help of AFRICOM (included planning assistance, equipment, and financial backing), Ward declared, "I think our support to those ongoing efforts is important support."
And in March 2010, U.S. officials revealed that the Obama administration was considering using surveillance drones to provide intelligence to government troops in Somalia for their planned offensive against al-Shabaab. According to these officials, the Pentagon may also launch air strikes into Somalia and send U.S. Special Forces troops into the country, as it has done in the past.
NEW MOVES REFLECT U.S. EYEING AFRICA AS NEXT BATTLEGROUND AGAINST AL-QAIDA
This growing U.S. military involvement in Africa reflects the fact that counterinsurgency has once again become one of the main elements of U.S. security strategy.
This is clearly evident in the new Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR) released by the Pentagon in February.
According to the QDR, "U.S. forces will work with the military forces of partner nations to strengthen their capacity for internal security, and will coordinate those activities with those of other U.S. government agencies as they work to strengthen civilian capacities, thus denying terrorists and insurgents safe havens. For reasons of political legitimacy as well as sheer economic necessity, there is no substitute for professional, motivated local security forces protecting populations threatened by insurgents and terrorists in their midst."
As the QDR makes clear, this is intended to avoid the need for direct U.S. military intervention: "Efforts that use smaller numbers of U.S. forces and emphasise host-nation leadership are generally preferable to large-scale counterinsurgency campaigns. By emphasising host-nation leadership and employing modest numbers of U.S. forces, the United States can sometimes obviate the need for larger-scale counterinsurgency campaigns."
Or, as a senior U.S. military officer assigned to AFRICOM was quoted as saying in a recent article in the U.S. Air University's Strategic Studies Quarterly, "We don't want to see our guys going in and getting whacked...We want Africans to go in."
Thus, the QDR goes on to say, "U.S. forces are working in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel, Colombia, and elsewhere to provide training, equipment, and advice to their host-country counterparts on how to better seek out and dismantle terrorist and insurgent networks while providing security to populations that have been intimidated by violent elements in their midst."
Furthermore, the United States will also continue to expand and improve the network of local military bases that are available to U.S. troops under base access agreements.
The resurgence of Vietnam War-era counterinsurgency doctrine as a principal tenet of U.S. security policy, therefore, has led to a major escalation of U.S. military involvement in Africa by the Obama administration that seems likely to continue in the years ahead.
# # #
Daniel Volman is the Director of the African Security Research Project in Washington. He is the author of numerous articles and reports and has been studying U.S. security policy toward Africa and African security issues for more than 30 years.
# # #
Special Report Copyright 2010, Inter-Press Service. Reposted by permission.
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