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Issue #1540      21 March 2012

Editorial

What is the SAS doing in Africa?

The Age newspaper revealed last week that a secret squadron (SAS4) of Australian SAS soldiers is operating out of uniform as spies in Africa, carrying out work more akin to the role of the Australian Secret Intelligence Services agencies (ASIS). The secret operations are taking place in Nigeria, Kenya, Zimbabwe and possibly in a number of other African countries. It needs to be asked: What is our military doing there? Australia is not at war with these countries. Parliament has not been consulted or even informed. Defence Minister Stephen Smith refuses to give any explanation but has expressed annoyance with the public exposure of Australia’s secret African operations.

Australia’s relatively recent focus on Africa came into the news during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM) in Perth in October 2011. The then foreign minister, Kevin Rudd, presented a special breakfast for the 30 African Mining Ministers participating in CHOGM. He announced increases in overseas development aid to Africa (mostly assisting the mining sector) saying: “We in this country have a deep affection for the continent of Africa. ... Because it will help lift your continent from poverty ...” Lined up alongside Rudd at CHOGM were BHP, Rio Tinto, Fortescue Metals and other mining corporations, all eagerly anticipating their take.

Amongst other things, The Age says the Australian SAS soldiers are assessing border controls, exploring landing sites for possible military intervention and possible escape routes for evacuating Australian nationals, military assessments of local politics, and security.

The US is already waging an undeclared war in Somalia and Yemen, including the use of drones. “It will not be long before [the US’s newest geographic combatant command] AFRICOM has some sort of Bagram Air Base location in the Nile Basin region. Such a US military base will house USSOCOM-SOCAFRICA and CENTCOM units (Egypt remains in CENTCOM’s area of operation),” US writer John Stanton warned in an article in Pravda (Pravda.ru – 10-11-2011).

“American special operators and CIA paramilitary forces will roam up and down portions of the Nile River and its Basin (and already are). Defence and non-defence contractors stand to make a fortune as the USA makes its economic and military move into the Nile Basin region which has become a focused concern of US national security. … The USA is staking a claim, drawing a line. … The move has begun in earnest.” The US’s involvement in the overthrow of Egypt’s president and installation of a military dictatorship is just one example, Stanton said.

The Age reports that Kevin Rudd as foreign minister, had asked for the 4 Squadron to be used in Libya in relation to the recent US-led NATO offensive. Defence Minister Stephen Smith and defence force chief General David Hurley apparently blocked his plans.

The secret 4 Squadron was set up under the Howard government in 2005. Its role was seen as providing an elite bodyguard for ASIS intelligence officers in overseas operations. Its new intelligence focus was officially authorised by Smith in 2010. It has been used in Afghanistan alongside ASIS officers. Its creation is based on a US model which involved joint operations between the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Areas of operation include Iraq, Somalia and Afghanistan.

The creation of 4 Squadron is closely tied to Australia’s political and military alliance with the US – the centrepiece of the Labor government’s foreign policy. There are several agendas at play. There is considerable inter-imperialist rivalry between the US and certain European nations (former colonisers) and there is competition with the People’s Republic of China which has its own investment agenda in Africa.

Kenya is in the Nile Basin, where there is growing US, European and Israeli military and economic involvement, and it now appears that Australia is more involved than previously made public. The US, France, Britain and Belgium require a naval presence in African waters as well as troop stationing on African soil. These African nations are rich in oil, minerals and fertile land for food crops and are potential markets for huge arm sales.

Next article – Interim conclusions research into Deaths in Custody

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