Dec 12, 2013
The U.S. Military and the Unraveling of Africa
Posted on Jun 19, 2013
By Nick Turse, TomDispatch
The situation has grown so serious that President Goodluck Jonathan recently declared a state of emergency in northern Nigeria. Last month, Secretary of State John Kerry spoke out about “credible allegations that Nigerian security forces are committing gross human rights violations, which, in turn, only escalate the violence and fuel extremism.” After a Boko Haram militant killed a soldier in the town of Baga, for example, Nigerian troops attacked the town, destroying more than 2,000 homes and killing an estimated 183 people.
Similarly, according to a recent United Nations report, the Congolese army’s 391st Commando Battalion, formed with U.S. support and trained for eight months by U.S. Special Operations forces, later took part in mass rapes and other atrocities. Fleeing the advance of a recently formed, brutal (non-Islamic) rebel group known as M23, its troops joined with other Congolese soldiers in raping close to 100 women and more than 30 girls in November 2012.
“This magnificent battalion will set a new mark in this nation’s continuing transformation of an army dedicated and committed to professionalism, accountability, sustainability, and meaningful security,” said Brigadier General Christopher Haas, the head of U.S. Special Operations Command Africa at the time of the battalion’s graduation from training in 2010.
Earlier this year, incoming AFRICOM commander General David Rodriguez told the Senate Armed Services Committee that a review of the unit found its “officers and enlisted soldiers appear motivated, organized, and trained in small unit maneuver and tactics” even if there were “limited metrics to measure the battalion’s combat effectiveness and performance in protecting civilians.” The U.N. report tells a different story. For example, it describes “a 14 year old boy… shot dead on 25 November 2012 in the village of Kalungu, Kalehe territory, by a soldier of the 391 Battalion. The boy was returning from the fields when two soldiers tried to steal his goat. As he tried to resist and flee, one of the soldiers shot him.”
For years, the U.S. aided Rwanda through various programs, including the International Military Education and Training initiative and Foreign Military Financing. Last year, the U.S. cut $200,000 in military assistance to Rwanda—a signal of its disapproval of that government’s support for M23. Still, as AFRICOM’s Rodriguez admitted to the Senate earlier this year, the U.S. continues to “support Rwanda’s participation in United Nations peacekeeping missions in Africa.”
After years of U.S. assistance, including support from Special Operations forces advisors, the Central African Republic’s military was recently defeated and the country’s president ousted by another newly formed (non-Islamist) rebel group known as Seleka. In short order, that country’s army chiefs pledged their allegiance to the leader of the coup, while hostility on the part of the rebels forced the U.S. and its allies to suspend their hunt for Joseph Kony.
A strategic partner and bulwark of U.S. counterterrorism efforts, Kenya receives around $1 billion in U.S. aid annually and elements of its military have been trained by U.S. Special Operations forces. But last September, Foreign Policy’s Jonathan Horowitz reported on allegations of “Kenyan counterterrorism death squads… killing and disappearing people.” Later, Human Rights Watch drew attention to the Kenyan military’s response to a November attack by an unknown gunman that killed three soldiers in the northern town of Garissa. The “Kenyan army surrounded the town, preventing anyone from leaving or entering, and started attacking residents and traders,” the group reported. “The witnesses said that the military shot at people, raped women, and assaulted anyone in sight.”
Another longtime recipient of U.S. support, the Ethiopian military, was also involved in abuses last year, following an attack by gunmen on a commercial farm. In response, according to Human Rights Watch, members of Ethiopia’s army raped, arbitrarily arrested, and assaulted local villagers.
The Ugandan military has been the primary U.S. proxy when it comes to policing Somalia. Its members were, however, implicated in the beating and even killing of citizens during domestic unrest in 2011. Burundi has also received significant U.S. military support and high-ranking officers in its army have recently been linked to the illegal mineral trade, according to a report by the environmental watchdog group Global Witness. Despite years of cooperation with the U.S. military, Senegal now appears more vulnerable to extremism and increasingly unstable, according to a report by the Institute of Security Studies.
And so it goes across the continent.
In addition to the Gulf of Guinea, AFRICOM’s chief spokesman pointed to Somalia as another major U.S. success story on the continent. And it’s true that Somalia is more stable now than it has been in years, even if a weakened al-Shabaab continues to carry out attacks. The spokesman even pointed to a recent CNN report about a trickle of tourists entering the war-torn country and the construction of a luxury beach resort in the capital, Mogadishu.
I asked for other AFRICOM success stories, but only those two came to his mind—and no one should be surprised by that.
After all, in 2006, before AFRICOM came into existence, 11 African nations were among the top 20 in the Fund for Peace’s annual Failed States Index. Last year, that number had risen to 15 (or 16 if you count the new nation of South Sudan).
In 2001, according to the Global Terrorism Database from the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism at the University of Maryland, there were 119 terrorist incidents in sub-Saharan Africa. By 2011, the last year for which numbers are available, there were close to 500. A recent report from the International Center for Terrorism Studies at the Potomac Institute for Policy Studies counted 21 terrorist attacks in the Maghreb and Sahel regions of northern Africa in 2001. During the Obama years, the figures have fluctuated between 144 and 204 annually.
1 2 3 4 5 NEXT PAGE >>>
New and Improved Comments