The U.S. Military’s Ongoing Securitization of Africa

US training African forcesU.S. Marines simulate a riot during a crowd control training exercise with soldiers from Burkina Faso. Source.

In what follows, I want to explore, and summarize, four articles–written by Nick Turse–that were released in 2015 about the U.S. military’s presence in Africa (for previous posts on Africa I have written about see here). They appear below in order of publication. Each examines a common trend: that Africa is increasingly the site, or target, of U.S. militarization–whether through training exercises, drone surveillance, Special Forces missions, or combined operations. AFRICOM, or Africa Command, is the geographic command headquartered in Stuttgart, Germany, responsible for continent-wide operations and liaising with the 53 African nations.

Africom emblem 2.svg


2044 or Bust: Military Missions Reach Record Levels After U.S. Inks Deal to Remain in Africa for Decades. April 14, 2015. Nick Turse. TomDispatch

In this article, Nick Turse gives a broad overview of U.S. military and Special Forces activity across Africa in 2014. Billions of dollars have been pumped into Africa to build surveillance bases, arm and train allies, fight proxy wars, and conduct thousands of small-scale security exercises and missions. Turse starts by detailing the war game “Silent Quest 15-1,” a military exercise that brings together Special Forces from around the world. SQ 15-1, conducted with 12 partner nations at MacDill AFB in Tampa, involved a fictional scenario in which the “Islamic State of Africa” and its proto-caliphate spreads across the continent. The tabletop exercise is evidence of the ongoing strategic planning and Africa “pivot” that Turse covers.

Recent years have seen the U.S. involved in multiple interventions in Africa, pursuing multiple types of intervention. In total, the U.S. conducted 674 military activities across the continent in 2014, nearly two missions per day. This represents close to a 300 percent jump in the number of annual operations, exercises, and training activities since AFRICOM was formed in 2008. In a 2015 statement to the Senate Armed Services Committee, AFRICOM chief General David Rodriguez noted the situation remained bleak. Militant groups have increased their presence and geographic reach. “Transregional terrorists and criminal networks continue to adapt and expand aggressively,” Rodriguez told committee members. “Al-Shabab has broadened its operations to conduct, or attempt to conduct, asymmetric attacks against Uganda, Ethiopia, Djibouti, and especially Kenya. Libya-based threats are growing rapidly, including an expanding ISIL presence… Boko Haram threatens the ability of the Nigerian government to provide security and basic services in large portions of the northeast.”

In its 2015 “posture statement,” AFRICOM reports that it conducted 68 operations in 2014, up from 55. These included “operations Juniper Micron and Echo Casemate, missions focused on aiding French and African interventions in Mali and the Central African Republic; Observant Compass, an effort to degrade or destroy what’s left of Joseph Kony’s murderous Lord’s Resistance Army in central Africa; and United Assistance, the deployment of military personnel to combat the Ebola crisis in West Africa.” Major joint field exercises numbered 11, including African Lion in Morocco, Western Accord in Senegal, Central Accord in Cameroon, and Southern Accord in Malawi. There were also a number of maritime security exercises.The number of “security cooperation” activities (such as training and mentoring programs) skyrocketed from 481 in 2013 to 595 last year. In total, there were 674 U.S. activities, up from 546.

In short: U.S. military activities in Africa during 2014.

  • 68 military operations
  • 11 joint field exercises
  • 595 security cooperation activities

Despite this expanding role of AFRICOM, Turse points to continuing security crises across the continent, from al-Shabab militants, to other Islamic terror groups. In recent testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee, AFRICOM commander Rodriguez stated:

“The network of al-Qaeda and its affiliates and adherents continues to exploit Africa’s under-governed regions and porous borders to train and conduct attacks. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant is expanding its presence in North Africa. Terrorists with allegiances to multiple groups are expanding their collaboration in recruitment, financing, training, and operations, both within Africa and trans-regionally. Violent extremist organizations are utilizing increasingly sophisticated improvised explosive devices, and casualties from these weapons in Africa increased by approximately 40 percent in 2014…”

In addition to its military bases in Djibouti–which secures U.S. presence through 2044–AFRICOM officers “are now talking about the possibility of building a string of surveillance outposts along the northern tier of the continent.” As Turse adds, “And don’t forget how, over the past few years, U.S. staging areas, mini-bases, and airfields have popped up in the contiguous nations of Senegal, Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and —  skipping Chad (where AFRICOM recently built temporary facilities for a special ops exercise) — the Central African Republic, South Sudan, Uganda, Kenya, and Ethiopia.”


Problem Partners, Ugly Outcomes: U.S. Special Ops Missions in Africa Fail to Stem Rising Tide of Terror Groups, Coups, and Human Rights Abuses.  September 10, 2015. Nick Turse (Gabriel Karon contributed to the report). TomDispatch.

In this article, Nick Turse explores the deployment of U.S. Special Operations Forces in Africa, under the Joint Combined Exchange Training  (JCET) program. This program–which is largely shrouded in official secrecy–trains African militaries, including those governments with terrible human rights records.

Since 2005, there is a yearly training exercise called “Flintock” that brings together U.S., European, and West African troops to “strengthen security institutions, promote multilateral sharing of information, and develop interoperability among the partner nations of the Trans-Sahara Counter Terrorism Partnership (TSCTP).” The countries are: Mauritania, Mali, Chad, Burkina Faso, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Morocco, Algeria, and Tunisia

TSCTP is directed by the Joint Chiefs of Staff and sponsored by SOCAFRICA, the special operations contingent of AFRICOM. It is conducted by Special Operations Command Forward-West Africa. The official aim of Flintock is to train African security forces to protect civilian populations across the Sahel region of Africa. This year, explains Turse,  “1,300 troops representing 28 countries — including U.S. Army  Green Berets — trained together in the host nation of Chad, as well as in Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon, and Tunisia, conducting mock combat patrols and practicing counterterrorism missions.”

Outside of the yearly Flitock exercises, U.S. Special Forces activity (Navy SEALs and Army Green Berets) is little understood. The JCET missions are low-profile and not publicized. They likely involve “providing instruction in all manner of combat capabilities, from advanced marksmanship and small unit tactics to training in conducting ambushes and perfecting sniper skills.” Essentially, the JCET program teaches African partner nations methods of counter-terrorism.

According to a Freedom of Information Request obtained by TomDispatch, there were:

  • 19 JCETs in 2012
  • 20 JCETS in 2013 (in 12 different countries)
  • 26 JCETS in 2014

These JCETs take place in countries that have documented cases of human rights abuses. Under the U.S.’ so-called Leahy Law — named after Vermont senator Patrick Leahy — the U.S. is prohibited from providing assistance to units “of the security forces of a foreign country if the secretary of state has credible information that such unit has committed a gross violation of human rights.” Yet, the U.S. has conducted with JCETs alongside African military forces “with genuinely dismal records in that regard.” This includes, for example, the training given by Naval Special Warfare Unit 10 (NSWU-10) to Cameroon’s elite 9th Battalion Intervention Rapid (9th BIR), which was implicated in a number of abuses in Cameroon across 2011 and 2012.

Members of the U.S. Special Operations forces alongside soldiers from the 3rd Battalion Intervention Rapid (BIR) training together in Bamenda, Cameroon, on January 17, 2013. (Photo by Air Force Master Sgt. Larry W. Carpenter Jr.)

The same pattern emerges in Chad. NSWU-10 trained Chad security forces were “killing and torturing with impunity” at the end of 2011. As Turse writes, “According to Amnesty International, during the spring of 2012 the Chadian Army was also recruiting ‘massive numbers of child soldiers.’  But that fall, members of NSWU-10 were back in Chad for a JCET that included training in reconnaissance operations and desert patrols.” Human rights abuses also took place in Chad during 2013 and 2014. Nonetheless, the country hosted Flintock 2015. As Turse goes on, the U.S. carried missions in a number of other countries with records of abuse (including Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Senegal, Tunisia, and Uganda). Other partner nations, such as Nigeria, are sites of what Amnesty International reveals, “horrific war crimes committed by Nigeria’s military including 8,000 people murdered, starved, suffocated, and tortured to death.”

Yet despite this ramped up U.S. training, its efficacy remains seriously in doubt.  AFRICOM’s own 2015 posture statement writes:  “In North and West Africa, Libyan and Nigerian insecurity increasingly threaten U.S. interests. In spite of multinational security efforts, terrorist and criminal networks are gaining strength and interoperability.”As worldwide JCET missions look set to increase in 2016, Africa will likely be a key site of expansion. As Turse finishes, “Will episodic training with militaries regularly implicated in human rights abuses, militaries that overthrow their governments, and militaries that have consistently failed to defeat local terror groups turn them into professional, successful armies when longer-term, more intensive, bigger-budget U.S. efforts to build-up national armies from South Vietnam to Afghanistan and Iraq have been so ineffective?”


Target Africa. The Drone Papers. Nick Turse. October 15, 2015. The Intercept

All types of bases, of various shapes, sizes, and materials, have one mission in common: to eradicate what the military calls the “tyranny of distance.” These facilities allow U.S. forces to surveil and operate on larger and larger swaths of the continent — and, increasingly, to strike targets with drones and manned aircraft.

Map of U.S. Drone Bases in Africa 1Map of Drone Bases in Africa 2Sources: 1) ISR study; 2) ISR study; 3) ISR study; 4) ISR study; 4) ISR study; 6) Foreign Policy; 7) The Washington Post; 8) Foreign Policy; 9) The Washington Post; 10) The Washington Post; 11) The Washington Post; 12) The Washington Post; 13) The New York Times; 14) The Washington Post


According to an internal 2013 Pentagon study obtained by The Intercept on secret drone operations in Somalia and Yemen between January 2011 and summer 2012, a secretive unit known as Task Force 48-4 carried out a shadow war in the region. The task force, with its headquarters at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, operated from outposts in Nairobi, Kenya, and Sanaa, Yemen. The aircraft it used — manned and remotely piloted — were based out of airfields in Djibouti, Ethiopia, and Kenya, as well as ships off the coast of East Africa.

Camp Lemonnier Aircraft.png


Does Eleven Plus One Equal Sixty? AFRICOM’s New Math, the U.S. Base Bonanza, and “Scarier” Times Ahead in Africa. Nick Turse. November 17, 2015. TomDispatch.

“In remote locales, behind fences and beyond the gaze of prying eyes, the U.S. military has built an extensive archipelago of African outposts, transforming the continent, experts say, into a laboratory for a new kind of war.” So begins Turse, in an article that explores the geography of U.S. bases across Africa. The headline here is the 60 or so U.S. military bases and access points that form an “Outpost Archipelago.”

The U.S. military’s stock response to “how many bases are there in Africa” is one: Camp Lemonnier. This base, which now nears 600 acres, up from the 88 acres it began its life in 2002, is the “hub” of U.S. counter-terrorism in Africa.

Yet the hub is connected to many nodes. Various outposts, including, so-called “cooperative security locations” (CSLs, skeletal sites that contain a few warehouses and a runway), number some 60, according to research by TomDispatch, across 34 different countries – or more than 60% of the nations on the continent, including states with poor human rights records. The U.S. also operates dozens of Offices of Security Cooperation and Defense Attaché Offices.

U.S. military outposts, port facilities, and other areas of access in Africa, 2002-2015 (Nick Turse/TomDispatch, 2015)

The “new normal” is to go further by going smaller. An extensive outpost archipelago has materialized in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, and Uganda.

The CSLs in Senegal, Ghana, and Gabon “are apparently designed to facilitate faster deployment for a rapid reaction unit with a mouthful of a moniker: Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Crisis Response-Africa (SPMAGTF-CR-AF).  Its forces are based in Morón, Spain, and Sigonella, Italy, but are focused on Africa.  They rely heavily on MV-22 Ospreys, tilt-rotor aircraft that can take-off, land, and hover like helicopters, but fly with the speed and fuel efficiency of a turboprop plane.” All told, this pan-African infrastructure allows a rapid-response team quick access 400 miles inland from any CSL.

Turse then takes inventory of several key bases, including:

  • Camp Simba in Manda Bay, Kenya. “The base serves as a home away from home for Navy personnel and Army Green Berets among other U.S. troops and, as recently revealed at the Intercept, plays an integral role in the secret drone assassination program aimed at militants in neighboring Somalia as well as in Yemen.”
  • MQ-1 Predators have been based in Chad’s capital, N’Djamena, while  MQ-9 Reapers have been flown out of Seychelles International Airport.
  • As of June 2012, according to the Intercept, two contractor-operated drones, one Predator and one Reaper, were based in Arba Minch, Ethiopia, while a detachment with one Scan Eagle and an MQ-8 Fire Scout flew from the coast of East Africa.
  • The U.S.  recently began setting up a base in Cameroon for unarmed Predators to be used against Boko Haram .
  • In February 2013, the U.S. began flying Predator drones out of Niger’s capital, Niamey.  That September, the Washington Post’s Craig Whitlock exposed plans to base drones at Agadez.
  • In Somalia, elite U.S. forces are operating from small compounds in Kismayo and Baledogle.
  • Ethiopia has been a location for American outposts, including Camp Gilbert in Dire Dawa, contingency operating locations at both Hurso and Bilate, and facilities based in Bara.
  • So-called “Combined Operations Fusion Centers” were installed in the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan to track down effort Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA).
  • Camp Lemonnier, of course, has been the site of various numbers of Predator and Reaper drones. Djibouti’s Chabelley Airfield, now serves as a crucial nodes in the U.S.’ regional drone campaign.

Logistics are also vital to feeding the African outpost archipelago. These include 10 marine gas and oil bunkers in ports across eight African nations.”All told, according to the Defense Logistics Agency, the U.S. military has struck 29 agreements to use airports as refueling centers in 27 African countries.” To supply its troops in East Africa, AFRICOM has constructed a sophisticated logistics system. “It’s officially known as the Surface Distribution Network, but colloquially referred to as the ‘new spice route.’  It connects Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, and Djibouti. These hubs are, in turn, part of a transportation and logistics network that includes bases located in Rota, Spain; Aruba in the Lesser Antilles; Souda Bay, Greece; and a forward operating site on Britain’s Ascension Island in the South Atlantic. ”

Turse concludes by reflecting on the “light footprint” approach nurtured under Obama’s administration. The key question is what happens to this network–of small bases, nondescript planes, attaches of special forces, and endurance drones–post-Obama?

This entry was posted in Africa, Baseworld, Drone Technology, JSOC, Special Forces, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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