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Turse writes: "Six years ago, a deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Special Operations Command gave a conservative estimate of 116 missions being carried out at any one time by Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and other special operations forces across the globe."

An AFRICOM soldier with US V-22 Osprey in background. (photo: AFRICOM)
An AFRICOM soldier with US V-22 Osprey in background. (photo: AFRICOM)

The US Is Waging a Massive Shadow War in Africa, Exclusive Documents Reveal

By Nick Turse, VICE

20 May 17


The war you've never heard of

ix years ago, a deputy commanding general for U.S. Army Special Operations Command gave a conservative estimate of 116 missions being carried out at any one time by Navy SEALs, Army Green Berets, and other special operations forces across the globe.

Today, according to U.S. military documents obtained by VICE News, special operators are carrying out nearly 100 missions at any given time — in Africa alone. It’s the latest sign of the military’s quiet but ever-expanding presence on the continent, one that represents the most dramatic growth in the deployment of America’s elite troops to any region of the globe.

In 2006, just 1 percent of all U.S. commandos deployed overseas were in Africa. In 2010, it was 3 percent. By 2016, that number had jumped to more than 17 percent. In fact, according to data supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command, there are now more special operations personnel devoted to Africa than anywhere except the Middle East — 1,700 people spread out across 20 countries dedicated to assisting the U.S. military’s African partners in their fight against terrorism and extremism.

“At any given time, you will find SOCAFRICA conducting approximately 96 activities in 20 countries,” Donald Bolduc, the U.S. Army general who runs the special operations command in Africa (SOCAFRICA), wrote in an October 2016 strategic planning guidance report. (The report was obtained by VICE News in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and is published in its entirety below.) VICE News reached out to SOCAFRICA and U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) for clarification on these numbers; email return receipts show an AFRICOM spokesperson “read” three such requests, but the command did not offer a reply.

The October 2016 report offers insight into what the U.S. military’s most elite forces are currently doing in Africa and what they hope to achieve. In so doing, it paints a picture of reality on the ground in Africa today and what it could be 30 years from now.

That picture is bleak.

“Africa’s challenges could create a threat that surpasses the threat that the United States currently faces from conflict in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria,” Bolduc warned. He went on to cite a laundry list of challenges with which he and his personnel must contend: ever-expanding illicit networks, terrorist safe havens, attempts to subvert government authority, a steady stream of new recruits and resources.

Bolduc indicated his solution was the “acceleration of SOF [special operations forces] missions [filling] a strategic gap as the military adjusts force structure now and in the future.” Translation: U.S. commandos “in more places, doing more” in Africa going forward.

At the same time, Bolduc says the U.S. is not at war in Africa. But this assertion is challenged by the ongoing operations aimed at the militant group al-Shabaab in Somalia, which operates often in all-but-ungoverned and extraordinarily complex areas Bolduc calls “gray zones.”

In January, for example, U.S. advisers conducting a counterterrorism operation alongside local Somali forces and troops from the African Union Mission in Somalia “observed al-Shabaab fighters threatening their safety and security” and “conducted a self-defense strike to neutralize the threat,” according to a press release from AFRICOM.

Earlier this month, in what AFRICOM described as “an advise-and-assist operation alongside Somali National Army forces,” Navy SEAL Kyle Milliken was killed and two other U.S. personnel were injured during a firefight with al-Shabaab militants about 40 miles west of Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu. The battle occurred shortly after President Donald Trump loosened Obama-era restrictions on offensive operations in Somalia, thereby allowing U.S. forces more discretion and leeway in conducting missions and opening up the possibility of more frequent airstrikes and commando raids.

“It allows us to prosecute targets in a more rapid fashion,” Gen. Thomas Waldhauser, the AFRICOM commander, said of the change. In April, the U.S. military reportedly requested the locations of aid groups working in the country, an indication that yet a greater escalation in the war against al-Shabaab may be imminent.

“Looking at counterterrorism operations in Somalia, it’s clear the U.S. has been relying heavily on the remote-control form of warfare so favored by President Obama,” said Jack Serle, who covers the subject for the London-based Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Recently, the U.S. has augmented this strategy, working alongside local Somali forces and African Union troops under the banner of “train, advise, and assist” missions and other types of “support” operations, according to Serle. “Now they partner with local security forces but don’t engage in actual combat, the Pentagon says. The truth of that is hard to divine.”

U.S. operations in Somalia are part of a larger continent-spanning counterterrorism campaign that saw special operations forces deploy to at least 32 African nations in 2016, according to open source data and information supplied by U.S. Special Operations Command. The cornerstone of this strategy involves training local proxies and allies — “building partner capacity” in the military lexicon.

“Providing training and equipment to our partners helps us improve their ability to organize, sustain, and employ a counter violent extremist force against mutual threats,” the SOCAFRICA report says.

As part of its increasing involvement in the war against Boko Haram militants in the Lake Chad Basin — it spans parts of Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon, and Chad — for example, the U.S. provided $156 million to support regional proxies last year.

In addition to training, U.S. special operators, including members of SEAL Team 6, reportedly assist African allies in carrying out a half dozen or more raids every month. In April, a U.S. special operator reportedly killed a fighter from Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army during an operation in the Central African Republic. U.S. forces also remain intimately involved in conflict in Libya after the U.S. ended an air campaign there against the Islamic State group in December. “We’re going to keep a presence on the ground… and we’re going to develop intelligence and take out targets when they arise,” Waldhauser said in March.

Though Bolduc said special operators are carrying out about 96 missions on any given day, he didn’t specify how many total missions are being carried out per year. SOCAFRICA officials did not respond to several requests for that number.

The marked increase in U.S. activity tracks with the rising number of major terror groups in Africa. A 2012 version of SOCAFRICA’s strategic planning documents also obtained by VICE News lists five major terror groups. The October 2016 files list seven by name — al-Qaida in the Lands of the Islamic Magreb, ISIS, Ansar al-Sharia, al-Murabitun, Boko Haram, the Lord’s Resistance Army, and al-Shabaab — in addition to “other violent extremist organizations,” also known as VEOs. In 2015, Bolduc said that there are nearly 50 terrorist organizations and “illicit groups” operating on the African continent.

Terror attacks in sub-Saharan Africa have skyrocketed in the past decade. Between 2006 and 2015, the last year covered by data from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, attacks jumped from about 100 per year to close to 2,000. “From 2010 to the present,” Bolduc says in the report, “VEOs in Africa have been some of the most lethal on the planet.”

“Many of Africa’s indicators are trending downward,” he writes. “We believe the situation in Africa will get worse without our assistance.”

Colby Goodman, the director of the Washington, D.C.–based Security Assistance Monitor, pointed to some recent tactical gains against terror groups, but warned that progress might be short-lived and unsustainable. “My continuing concerns about U.S. counterterrorism strategy in Africa,” he said, “is an over-focus on tactical military support to partner countries at the expense of a more whole-government approach and a lack of quality assessments and evaluations of U.S. security aid to these countries.”

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+27 # jwb110 2017-05-20 18:32
Talk about entitlement programs!!! The military will bankrupt the US in much the same way that Rome suddenly found it too expensive to have a military presence throughout its Empire. Romans found themselves stranded in far-flung outposts as Roman troupes made their way back to a greatly decreased and bankrupt Empire. Colin Powell's Chief of Staff, Lawrence Wilkerson, has given speeches around the US predicting this eventuality. This man is a life long Republican. He served 30 years in the Military. This is not some bleeding heart liberal chanting for peace. His message is to reasonably control our presence around the world in order to preserve this country for its people and provide for the public welfare and security of the Nation. I don't think that is too much to ask.
The military will shout that we, the people, have no idea of the threats to US security. If they keep the Nation in the dark there is no need for them to tell the truth or a lie. In my long life every time I have heard the term "US strategic interests" it is always about some corporation who is threatened not the Homeland.
We have been threatened and attacked here at home. That said, it is nothing compared to all of the rest of the world. We have been insulated for many years. Our wars have always been over seas. I personally think it would be wise to not make too many enemies and suddenly finding ourselves having to fight a war at home while all of our troupes are somewhere else.
+2 # hereandnow 2017-05-23 11:43
I totally agree with you except for the fact that the US is already bankrupt and can only keep afloat by peddling worthless bonds, scaring anyone out there with the military who might call in thier debts and as you said keep on subjugating more and more countries until that day when the whole house of cards comes tumbling down ... probably provoked by a real military licking on a grand scale when some present or future president attacks someone who can fight back ... that day, I fear is coming closer and closer ... maybe actually it will be a blessing in disguise and the whole world can breath a sigh of relief, much like the kids in the schoolyard when the macho bully who has been beating everyone up gets his comeuppance.
+17 # Anonymot 2017-05-20 18:51
I've lived in Africa and traveled much of the rest. These think tank, algorithm guys who sit at their computers when they're not at the bank counting their money are totally isolated from the reality. So are the Generals. what their goal is is to protect the resources we exploit and need.

But for all the wishful thinking, Africa is lost. When we could have, should have was right as they were gaining their independence/ What we actually did was stuff the pockets of the African leaders we put in place with World Bank money, AID money, IMF money, and our money.

But from this classic American failure to understand will come another Afghanistan/Ira qi-style wreck until there's nothing left to save.
0 # Robbee 2017-05-21 12:12
Quoting Anonymot 2017-05-20 18:51:
But for all the wishful thinking, Africa is lost...from this classic American failure to understand will come another wreck until there's nothing left to save.

- for post-colonial powers, to robbee's notice, tactics that can militarily defeat popular, guerilla, civil-warriors in south america, africa and south asia - governmental practice is to try everything! economic and military! to see what constellation of tactics extract best, yielding best short-term resource-extrac tion results

the white, working-class american voter, responds best to those who say - 1) they know what they are doing; 2) they always win; 3) if the white, working-class public vote for winners, the white, working-class public win jobs, better pay and lower taxes

last year robbee hoped that bernie could break through the us-against-ever ybody-else mindset of the white, working-class voter - focusing on union members, who, if anyone, should understand the strength of standing together, bernie campaigned like a whirlwind - unfortunately, except among youth, robbee saw no evidence of any significant break-through

without a ready, in the foreseeable future, strategy to stop wrecking africa, robbee notes that if we can enact a constitutional amendment that gets private money out of elections, then, on that grand day, politicians will have nothing better to do than, instead of to billionaires and their corporations, to listen to humans!
+11 # wcandler1 2017-05-20 22:19
It is time to restrict the military to US territorial land, waters and airspace. We need a Defence Department to defend us, not solicit violence against us around the world
+7 # MDSolomon 2017-05-20 22:40
This is an interesting piece of propaganda for the Anglo-Euro-Amer ican banking cartel, and its subsidiary corporations and public sector governments, including its various proxies (US, UK, France, Saudi Arabia, Israel, etc.) and their military and intelligence levers.

All of these actions are counter to international law, the Geneva Convention, and the US Constitution.

The goal of the cartel has nothing to do with "defeating terrorists." The cartel and its proxies are the greatest terrorists in the history of the world. They make Rome and Mongols look like peanuts.

In creating the false flags that are used to justify these wars of aggression, the goals of the cartel are: 1) destroy any nation that controls its own central bank and currency; 2) steal whatever natural resources and commodities (oil, gold, etc.) are available; and 3) "... reduce the surplus population."

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