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Washington Puts Its Money on Proxy War

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

By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

(Page 3)

In Somalia, Washington has already involved itself in a multi-pronged military and CIA campaign against Islamist al-Shabaab militants that includes intelligence operations, training for Somali agents, a secret prison, helicopter attacks, and commando raids.  Now, it is also backing a classic proxy war using African surrogates.  The United States has become, as the Los Angeles Times put it recently, “the driving force behind the fighting in Somalia,” as it trains and equips African foot soldiers to battle Shabaab militants, so U.S. forces won’t have to.  In a country where more than 90 Americans were killed and wounded in a 1993 debacle now known by the shorthand “Black Hawk Down,” today’s fighting and dying has been outsourced to African soldiers. 

Earlier this year, for example, elite Force Recon Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 (or, as a mouthful of an acronym, SPMAGTF-12) trained soldiers from the Uganda People’s Defense Force.  It, in turn, supplies the majority of the troops to the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) currently protecting the U.S.-supported government in that country’s capital, Mogadishu.

This spring, Marines from SPMAGTF-12 also trained soldiers from the Burundi National Defense Force (BNDF), the second-largest contingent in Somalia.  In April and May, members of Task Force Raptor, 3rd Squadron, 124th Cavalry Regiment of the Texas National Guard, took part in a separate training mission with the BNDF in Mudubugu, Burundi.  SPMAGTF-12 has also sent its trainers to Djibouti, another nation involved in the Somali mission, to work with an elite army unit there.

At the same time, U.S. Army troops have taken part in training members of Sierra Leone’s military in preparation for their deployment to Somalia later this year.  In June, U.S. Army Africa commander Major General David Hogg spoke encouragingly of the future of Sierra Leone’s forces in conjunction with another U.S. ally, Kenya, which invaded Somalia last fall (and just recently joined the African Union mission there).  “You will join the Kenyan forces in southern Somalia to continue to push al Shabaab and other miscreants from Somalia so it can be free of tyranny and terrorism and all the evil that comes with it,” he said. “We know that you are ready and trained. You will be equipped and you will accomplish this mission with honor and dignity.”

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Readying allied militaries for deployment to Somalia is, however, just a fraction of the story when it comes to training indigenous forces in Africa.  This year, for example, Marines traveled to Liberia to focus on teaching riot-control techniques to that country’s military as part of what is otherwise a State Department-directed effort to rebuild its security forces. 

In fact, Colonel Tom Davis of U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) recently told TomDispatch that his command has held or has planned 14 major joint training exercises for 2012 and a similar number are scheduled for 2013.  This year’s efforts include operations in Morocco, Cameroon, Gabon, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Senegal, and Nigeria, including, for example, Western Accord 2012, a multilateral exercise involving the armed forces of Senegal, Burkina Faso, Guinea, Gambia, and France.

Even this, however, doesn’t encompass the full breadth of U.S. training and advising missions in Africa.  “We… conduct some type of military training or military-to-military engagement or activity with nearly every country on the African continent,” wrote Davis.   

Our American Proxies

Africa may, at present, be the prime location for the development of proxy warfare, American-style, but it’s hardly the only locale where the United States is training indigenous forces to aid U.S. foreign policy aims.  This year, the Pentagon has also ramped up operations in Central and South America as well as the Caribbean. 

In Honduras, for example, small teams of U.S. troops are working with local forces to escalate the drug war there. Working out of Forward Operating Base Mocoron and other remote camps, the U.S. military is supporting Honduran operations by way of the methods it honed in Iraq and Afghanistan.  U.S. forces have also taken part in joint operations with Honduran troops as part of a training mission dubbed Beyond the Horizon 2012, while Green Berets have been assisting Honduran Special Operations forces in anti-smuggling operations.  Additionally, an increasingly militarized Drug Enforcement Administration sent a Foreign-deployed Advisory Support Team, originally created to disrupt the poppy trade in Afghanistan, to aid Honduras’s Tactical Response Team, that country’s elite counternarcotics unit. 

The militarization and foreign deployment of U.S. law enforcement operatives was also evident in Tradewinds 2012, a training exercise held in Barbados in June.  There, members of the U.S. military and civilian law enforcement agencies joined with counterparts from Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Canada, Dominica, the Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Suriname, as well as Trinidad and Tobago, to improve cooperation for “complex multinational security operations.”


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