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Washington Puts Its Money on Proxy War

Posted on Aug 10, 2012
michael baird (CC BY-SA 2.0)

By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

(Page 2)

Adding insult to injury, this poor-performing, coalition-killing force is expensive.  Bought and paid for by the United States and its coalition partners, it costs between $10 billion and $12 billion each year to sustain in a country whose gross domestic product is just $18 billion.  Over the long term, such a situation is untenable. 

Back to the Future

Utilizing foreign surrogates is nothing new.  Since ancient times, empires and nation-states have employed foreign troops and indigenous forces to wage war or have backed them when it suited their policy aims.  By the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, the tactic had become de rigueur for colonial powers like the French who employed Senegalese, Moroccans, and other African forces in Indochina and elsewhere, and the British who regularly used Nepalese Gurkhas to wage counterinsurgencies in places ranging from Iraq and Malaya to Borneo.   

By the time the United States began backing the mujahedeen in Afghanistan, it already had significant experience with proxy warfare and its perils.  After World War II, the U.S. eagerly embraced foreign surrogates, generally in poor and underdeveloped countries, in the name of the Cold War.  These efforts included the attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro via a proxy Cuban force that crashed and burned at the Bay of Pigs; the building of a Hmong army in Laos which ultimately lost to Communist forces there; and the bankrolling of a French war in Vietnam that failed in 1954 and then the creation of a massive army in South Vietnam that crumbled in 1975, to name just a few unsuccessful efforts.


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A more recent proxy failure occurred in Iraq.  For years after the 2003 invasion, American policy-makers uttered a standard mantra: “As Iraqis stand up, we will stand down.”  Last year, those Iraqis basically walked off.        

Between 2003 and 2011, the United States pumped tens of billions of dollars into “reconstructing” the country with around $20 billion of it going to build the Iraqi security forces.  This mega-force of hundreds of thousands of soldiers and police was created from scratch to prop up the successors to the government that the United States overthrew.  It was trained by and fought with the Americans and their coalition partners, but that all came to an end in December 2011.

Despite Obama administration efforts to base thousands or tens of thousands of troops in Iraq for years to come, the Iraqi government spurned Washington’s overtures and sent the U.S. military packing.  Today, the Iraqi government supports the Assad regime in Syria, and has a warm and increasingly close relationship with long-time U.S. enemy Iran.  According to Iran’s semiofficial Fars News Agency, the two countries have even discussed expanding their military ties.

African Shadow Wars

Despite a history of sinking billions into proxy armies that collapsed, walked away, or morphed into enemies, Washington is currently pursuing plans for proxy warfare across the globe, perhaps nowhere more aggressively than in Africa.   

Under President Obama, operations in Africa have accelerated far beyond the more limited interventions of the Bush years.  These include last year’s war in Libya; the expansion of a growing network of supply depots, small camps, and airfields; a regional drone campaign with missions run out of Djibouti, Ethiopia, and the Indian Ocean archipelago nation of Seychelles; a flotilla of 30 ships in that ocean supporting regional operations; a massive influx of cash for counterterrorism operations across East Africa; a possible old-fashioned air war, carried out on the sly in the region using manned aircraft; and a special ops expeditionary force (bolstered by State Department experts) dispatched to help capture or kill Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) leader Joseph Kony and his senior commanders.  (This mission against Kony is seen by some experts as a cover for a developing proxy war between the U.S. and the Islamist government of Sudan—which is accused of helping to support the LRA—and Islamists more generally.)  And this only begins to scratch the surface of Washington’s fast-expanding plans and activities in the region.

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