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Issue #1578      January 23, 2013

US military intervention in Africa

Statement, United National Anti-war Coalition

On Christmas Day, 2012 – a time when few people were paying attention to the news – the Associated Press reported that the Obama administration had decided to send some 3,500 US troops early in 2013 into as many as 35 of Africa’s 54 countries, claiming it is part of an intensifying Pentagon effort to train countries to battle “extremists” and to “give the United States a ready and trained force to dispatch to Africa if crises requiring the US military emerge.”

History of US forces in Africa

It was a significant escalation of what has been a steadily increasing introduction of US forces into the formerly colonised continent. Over the past few decades, the US has devoted more and more attention to Africa, both because of its vast natural resources, consumer and government markets and historically cheap labour, and because of the US’ increasingly fierce competition with China both for these resources and for political influence with African countries.

On December 30 the president had sent 50 US troops to Chad, “to help evacuate US citizens and embassy personnel from the neighbouring Central African Republic’s capital of Bangui in the face of rebel advances toward the city.”

In the fall of 2011, the US sent about 100 US troops “to help hunt down the leaders of the notoriously violent Lord’s Resistance Army in and around Uganda.” (CNN, October 11, 2011)

That same CNN article reported the Pentagon also was “sending equipment to Central African armed forces and training a Democratic Republic of Congo light infantry battalion deployed in that country’s northeast” and that the Pentagon’s US Africa Command, or AFRICOM, was “exploring ways to support the military of South Sudan.”

By early October 2010, the report stated, “the US military had more than 1,700 troops deployed in sub-Saharan Africa,” mostly stationed in the small East African country of Djibouti, but with “at least a small presence in 33 different nations in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Although AFRICOM now operates throughout Africa, its operational command centre is still in Stuttgart, Germany. That’s because no African country has yet agreed to host it. The Command now may have found its de facto headquarters in Ougadougou, Burkina Faso, from which it has been sending drone surveillance flights over northern Mali.

In June 2005, AFRICOM launched its five-year Trans-Saharan Counter Terrorism Partnership. That was followed in 2006 with Flintlock, a now annual “regional exercise among African, Western, and US counterterrorism forces.”

In February 2012, there was Atlas Accord 12, an “annual-joint-aerial-delivery exercise, hosted by US Army Africa,” which “brings together US Army personnel with militaries in Africa to enhance air drop capabilities and ensure effective delivery of military resupply materials and humanitarian aid.”(Website of US Army Africa, AFRICOM, February 10, 2012). This took place while the Tuareg rebellion was unfolding in the north.

The arguments supporting the deployments are always the same: the presence of “Islamists” or other extremists in countries suffering from a lack of financial resources, unstable governments and internal strife – all of which, where they exist, can be traced to the legacy of Western colonialism and neocolonialism.

US intervention in Mali

One country has emerged as a particular focus of interest for the US military: the West African Republic of Mali.

Early in 2012, long-simmering grievances of various ethnic groups in Northern Mali erupted in a resumption of an off-and-on-again armed struggle for independence that dates back to the French colonial period. On March 21 a group of mid-level officers and rank-and-file soldiers, angered by the government’s inability to effectively combat the rebellion, staged a coup, ousting the democratically elected president, Amadou Toumani Toure. Prior to the coup, AFRICOM had established training programs and joint operations with the Malian army.

Meanwhile, hundreds of Tuaregs who had sought work in Colonel Muammar Gaddafi’s Libya, some as soldiers in the Libyan army, were returning home to escape the anti-Black pogroms being carried out by the Western-backed “rebel” forces. Many came back with their weapons and joined the rebellion. On April 6 the National Movement for the Liberation of the Azawad, or MNLA, a military-political force representing the impoverished Tuareg people in Northern Mali, declared the northern half of the country to be a new, independent nation.

Also coming into the country were what the US described as large numbers of Arab fighters who identified with forces such as Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) and the Movement for Unity and Jihad in West Africa (MUJAO), whose goal was to take control of all of Mali and impose a severe interpretation of Sharia law.

It was the presence of these outside forces that gave the US and France an excuse to try and orchestrate a regional military intervention in Mali, supposedly to prevent the North from becoming a haven for terrorists. In addition, the US and France are both planning to send spy drones over the territory to assist in identifying targets for overt bombing missions.

However, those reports of large numbers of Islamists entering the area have been denied by the rival MNLA.

“The arrival of convoys of jihadists from Sudan and Western Sahara are totally false,” said MNLA spokesperson Ibrahim Ag Mohamed Assaleh. “We categorically deny it.”

Even a Malian security source told the French Press Agency that there is “the arrival of new terrorists in the north of Mali,” but that claims of several hundred are “exaggerated.”

Ignoring these objections, the US and France are now making political, diplomatic and military plans to force through a UN-backed plan to essentially invade Mali and take control of its weak political and military infrastructure. The mechanism for the invasion would be the Economic Community of West African States, or ECOWAS, a 15-nation regional political and military alliance in which the US has strong influence.

Why Mali?

Why Mali? Two reasons: oil, and the country’s critical geo-political importance.

It has long been suspected that the northeastern region of Mali that borders Algeria potentially holds vast oil and gas reserves. The recent confirmation of oil reserves near Tessalit, a small Malian oasis town about 85 kilometres from the Algerian border, has fed Western hunger for control of that area.

The second reason for the intensifying US interest is that Mali borders no less than seven West and North African countries, including Algeria, Niger, Senegal and Mauritania. Controlling Mali would give the US an important hub from which to influence regional developments. This has been Washington’s strategy for the Continent as a whole: to use economic aid and military training to develop close relationships with key governments and their militaries – such as Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda – so the US can use them as a network of regional proxies to control all of Africa. This was the strategy that England and France used to control the Middle East after World War I, as well as the one England used with such success in India during that country’s colonial period.

Meanwhile, there is not one significant force in or out of the Malian government that has called for outside intervention, whether led by the Western powers or ECOWAS.

Without a doubt, Africa has many problems – poverty, insufficient infrastructure, AIDS, high infant mortality rates and short life expectancies. Such is the legacy of the forced removal of tens of millions of its most productive people, as well as the many years of brutal and exploitative colonisation.

Responsibility of anti-war movement

But Africa still is a continent of vast natural resources: gold, diamonds, uranium, oil, natural gas, fishing and agriculture. There is no reason why Africans cannot develop these resources to not only meet their own needs but to be in a position to help other impoverished peoples. But first they must have something they lost hundreds of years ago: control over their continent’s riches.

United National Anti-war Coalition is an alliance of US-based organisations  

Next article – Culture & Life – Life and death in Chile’s “sacrificial zone”

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