The War on Terror began 17 years ago, sparked by the events of 9/11. Our first military conflicts began with the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. Eventually we saw combat in Libya, Pakistan, Yemen, Syria and Egypt. Our counterterrorism operations in Africa, however, rarely receive any public attention. In 2014 alone, we were militarily involved with 49 out of 54 African nations.
The United States Africa Command was created in 2007 by the Bush Administration. It was meant to centralize all US security activities in Africa. From its inception, AFRICOM has seen a huge amount of criticism. Critics saw this as a repeat of America’s Cold War policies in Africa, where we committed numerous human rights violations, such as assassinations, propping up military dictatorships and trafficking weapons.
Unsurprisingly, the U.S. government continued many of its Cold War strategies. One of those policies is the use of proxy wars. A proxy war is a conflict created or instigated by a major power, but fought by a third party. We did this during the wars in Korea, Vietnam and even the Soviet-Afghan war. In Africa we train soldiers, supply them with weapons and supervise their missions. Generally these missions are “direct action” combat raids against Islamic militants. An active-duty Green Beret officer reportedly described the program as “It’s less, ‘We’re helping you,’ and more, ‘You’re doing our bidding’” according to Politico.
Besides using African soldiers as their own, the military broke protocol by engaging in direct combat. This is a direct contradiction to statements issued from high-level government executives. Lt. Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, director of the Pentagon’s Joint Staff blatantly said soldiers aren’t involved in combat. He stated, “No, we’re not involved in direct action missions with partner forces.”
How can that be true if Sgt. Alexander Conrad was killed during a special ops mission in Somalia? Chief Petty Officer Kyle Milliken was also killed during a SEALS mission in Somalia. Four American soldiers were killed during an ambush in Tongo Tongo, Niger. From 2015-2017 U.S. soldiers were involved in ten separate firefights. These firefights were left unreported until earlier this year. Something is killing these soldiers and it sure isn’t the water.
Supposedly, Section 127e is a legal authority that allows soldiers to switch from a supervising role to a combat one. U.S. representative Richard Hudson confirmed its existence and purpose in the recent quote, “If you’re deployed under this combating terrorism authority, 127e, that’s probably combat.”
The full details surrounding this policy remain shrouded in mystery, but its full power is well-known to members of the Special-Ops community. In 2014, Adm. William McRaven stated that Section 127e is “probably the single most important authority we have in our fight against terrorism.” Earlier this year, General Tony Thomas told congress that the authority’s “unique access and capabilities achieve results.” He never explained what those capabilities were or what results were achieved.
The U.S. military confirmed in July of 2018 that they would reduce troop numbers in Africa. Sounds great right? Well not really. The terror threat in Africa has grown exponentially since we began operations there, according to Bloomberg News. Militants are so well armed, they were able to take out a Malian military base.
Officials said that troops and funding will be redirected towards the growing threats of China, North Korea and Russia. This will leave a huge reduction in military resources for partnered nations. We could potentially see a repeat of Vietnam or Mosul.
Thankfully, the Pentagon has a plan to stop this from happening. The U.S. will spend $100 million in military aid to seven African countries they believe are the most “capable” to fight terror groups. The majority of this money ($70 million) will go to Uganda. That means that $30 million has to be split between Cameroon, Kenya, Mauritania and Nigeria.
The Pentagon also has plans to provide aid to our European allies, who will in turn, transfer their resources to Africa. This is ironic, seeing as President Trump has complained that our allies aren’t paying enough for their defenses.
Also, bad news for anyone in the National Guard. The commander of AFRICOM, General Thomas Waldhauser, has plans to replace special ops units with national guardsmen. In the Aug. 1, 2018 issue of the New York Times, he states that guardsmen from California, Michigan and Indiana will be paired with African soldiers. He didn’t release a timeline, but I assume it will happen soon.
Ultimately, I think America’s involvement in Africa is a disaster. The people of Africa have been lied to, stolen from, silenced and subjugated for centuries. Whether it was the Atlantic slave trade or neoliberal economic policies, Africans have always been exploited for economic gain by those in power.
Now the U.S. has decided to exploit them for military gain. During the Cold War we killed their leaders, caused political upheaval and watched apathetically as our puppet regimes committed horrible atrocities. Now in the War on Terror, we send Africans to die for us and string their governments along with the promise of monetary gain.
I’m also appalled by the countless deaths of American soldiers, many of them treated as an afterthought. These were brave men and women who fought for a country that lies constantly about the details of their deaths and plans to send many more to an early grave. Some will say this is a necessary evil to fight terrorism in the African continent. In the words of Ernest Hemingway, “Never think that war, no matter how necessary, nor how justified, is not a crime.”