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The U.S. Military’s New Normal in Africa

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Posted on May 15, 2014

Photo by US Army Africa (CC BY 2.0)

By Nick Turse, TomDispatch

(Page 4)

That was a new one.

Another follow-up and Roberts finally got back in touch.  “Apologies, but I am no longer able to arrange an interview with Magee,” he informed me.  “Thanks for understanding.”

But I didn’t understand and told him so.  After all, Magee was the man who lived and executed the new normal.  I thought we were set for an interview.  What happened?

“He has simply declined an interview, as is his privilege,” was the best Roberts could do.  Magee had been dropped into the hot zone in South Sudan to forestall the next Benghazi, and had previously spoken with other media outlets about his work in Africa, but conversing with me about Operation New Normal was apparently beyond the pale.  Or maybe it had something to do with those paint fumes.

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On March 31st, Roberts told me that he could answer the questions by email—questions that I had already sent in on March 17th.  But no response came.  I followed up again.  And again.  And again.  I sent the questions a second time. 

As of publication, almost two months after my initial inquiry, no word yet.  That, evidently, is the new normal, too.

The Real New Normal

Quite obviously, the U.S. military isn’t eager to talk about Operation New Normal, which—despite Benjamin Benson’s contentions, Lee Magee’s silence, and Glen Roberts’ disappearance—is almost certainly the name for a U.S. military mission in East Africa that, U.S. documents suggest, is tied to the Benghazi-birthed East African Response Force.

More important than uncovering the nature of Operation New Normal, however, is recognizing the real new normal in Africa for the U.S. military: ever-increasing missions across the continent—now averaging about 1.5 per day—ever more engagement with local proxies in ever more African countries, the construction of ever more new facilities in ever more countries (including plans for a possible new compound in Niger), and a string of bases devoted to surveillance activities spreading across the northern tier of Africa.  Add to this impressive build-up the three new rapid reaction forces, specialized teams like a contingent of AFRICOM personnel and officials from the FBI and the departments of Justice, State, and Defense created to help rescue hundreds of Nigerian schoolgirls kidnapped by members of the Islamic militant group Boko Haram, and other shadowy quick-response units like the seldom-mentioned Naval Special Warfare Unit 10.

 “Having resources [on the continent] that are ready for a response is really valuable,” Benson told me when talking about the Djibouti-based EARF.  The same holds for the U.S. military’s new normal in Africa: more of everything valuable to a military seeking a new mission in the wake of two fading, none-too-successful wars.

The Benghazi killings, unrest in South Sudan, and now the Boko Haram kidnappings have provided the U.S. with ways to bring a long-running “light footprint in Africa” narrative into line with a far heavier reality.  Each crisis has provided the U.S. with further justification for publicizing a steady expansion on that continent that’s been underway but under wraps for years.  New forces, new battlefields, and a new openness about a new “war,” to quote one of the men waging it.  That’s the real new normal for the U.S. military in Africa—and you don’t need to talk to Lieutenant Colonel Lee Magee to know it. 

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  A 2014 Izzy Award winner, his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Nation, at the BBC and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (now out in paperback).

Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook and Tumblr. Check out the newest Dispatch Book, Ann Jones’s They Were Soldiers: How the Wounded Return From America’s Wars—The Untold Story.

Copyright 2014 Nick Turse


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