U.S. Africa Command Debates TomDispatch
By Nick Turse, TomDispatchThis piece originally appeared at TomDispatch. Because of its unusual content and form, an explanation from TomDispatch editor Tom Engelhardt appears at the beginning.
On July 12th, TomDispatch posted the latest piece in Nick Turse’s “changing face of empire” series: “Obama’s Scramble for Africa.” It laid out in some detail the way in which the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) has, in recent years, spread its influence across that continent, establishing bases and outposts, sending in special operations forces and drones, funding proxy forces on the continent, and so on. As last week ended, TomDispatch received a “letter to the editor” from Colonel Tom Davis, director of the U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs, disputing in some detail a number of Turse’s points. (Colonel Davis also sent a copy of the letter to the Nation Institute, which supports this website.)
As readers know, it’s quite possible to write this editor. I read everything that arrives at TomDispatch with appreciation and answer when I can. There is, however, no “comments” section, nor a place for letters to the editor at TD. In this case, however, I found the obvious time and effort AFRICOM took to respond to the Turse piece of interest and so, today, we’re posting Colonel Davis’s full letter, and a response from Turse. After all, whatever highlights the changing U.S. military position in Africa, about which Americans know remarkably little, seems well worth the time and space.
Two things remain to be said: first, beneath the detailed critique and response that follows lies an obvious difference of opinion that seems worth highlighting. Like a number of other TomDispatch writers, I believe that the U.S. military should not be responsible for Planet Earth; that it is not in our interest for the Pentagon to be dividing the globe, like a giant pie, into six “slices” covering almost every inch of the planet: U.S. European Command, or EUCOM (for Europe and Russia), the U.S. Pacific Command, or PACOM (Asia), CENTCOM (the Greater Middle East and a touch of North Africa), NORTHCOM (North America), SOUTHCOM (South America and most of the Caribbean), and AFRICOM (almost all of Africa). Nor should the U.S. military be garrisoning the planet in the historically unprecedented way it does. This imperial role of ours has little or nothing to do with “defense” and creates many possibilities for future blowback. Instead, it seems far more sensible to begin to shut down or cut back radically on our vast array of global bases and outposts (rather than, as in Africa, expanding them), and downsize our global mission in a major way. AFRICOM would obviously disagree, as would the Pentagon and the Obama administration, and the results of that basic disagreement about the role of the U.S. military in the world can be seen in what follows.
Second, one of Colonel Davis’s criticisms below is of a passage in my introduction to Turse’s piece. “[O]nly the other day,” I wrote, “it was revealed that three U.S. Army commandos in a Toyota Land Cruiser had skidded off a bridge in Mali in April. They died, all three, along with three women identified as ‘Moroccan prostitutes.’” The Colonel questions the accuracy of that word “revealed,” since his command had issued a brief press release on April 20th stating: “Three U.S. military members and three civilians died in a vehicle accident in Bamako, Mali today.”
In the Washington Post piece I linked to, however, reporter Craig Whitlock identified the three “military members” as “U.S. Army Commandos” and those three “civilians” as “Moroccan prostitutes” and raised the following questions: “What the men were doing in the impoverished country of Mali, and why they were still there a month after the United States suspended military relations with its government, is at the crux of a mystery that officials have not fully explained even 10 weeks later.” It seems to me that, if you compare the press release to the later article, “revealed” is not too strong a word. With that, let me turn the proceedings over to Colonel Davis and Nick Turse. Tom
FROM: Colonel Tom Davis
Director, U.S. Africa Command Office of Public Affairs
Kelley Barracks, Stuttgart, Germany
TO: Mr. Tom Engelhardt, Editor
Dear Mr. Engelhardt,
We read the recent article “Secret Wars, Secret Bases, and the Pentagon’s ‘New Spice Route’ in Africa” with great interest. It is clear the author, Nick Turse, conducted a great deal of research, including reaching out to us, and we welcomed the opportunity to highlight U.S. Africa Command’s mission and activities. However, there were several inaccuracies and misrepresentations that we would like to address. My hope is that you, through your publication, will correct the record. As a thought provoking, responsible, and professional journalist, I know that you would want to ensure all reporting was based on facts, not innuendos or misperceptions.
Below are the items U.S. Africa Command would like to address:
“They call it the New Spice Route”: This was a term used informally by a few of our logistics specialists to describe the intra-theater transportation system, primarily land shipments from Djibouti, which provides logistical support for U.S. military activities in Africa. The network is officially called the AFRICOM Surface Distribution Network. However, to call it a “superpower’s superhighway” is very misleading. The U.S. military cargo transported along these different transportation nodes represents only a mere fraction — i.e., a handful of trucks per week intermixed among the thousands of others — of the total amount of fuel, food, and equipment transported along these routes each day.
“Fast-growing U.S. military presence in Africa”: While the size of the U.S. military footprint in Africa has increased since the creation of U.S. Africa Command in October 2008, to call it “fast-growing” is an exaggeration. At the end of October 2008, there were about 2,600 U.S. military personnel and Department of Defense civilians on the African continent or on ships within the command’s area of responsibility. The number today is about 5,000, more than half of which represents the service members who serve tours at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, with the remainder serving on a temporary basis ranging from a few days to a few weeks. Much of this change is attributable to an increase in the number of exercises and military-to-military engagement programs in order to better enable African nations and regional organizations to strengthen their defense capabilities. On a much smaller scale, it also reflects a modest increase in the staff sizes of DOD offices resident in U.S. embassies, which average just a small number of staff members. But even 5,000 personnel — about the military population of a small Air Force Base in the U.S. — spread across an area that covers 54 countries and major portions of two oceans can hardly be called a “scramble for Africa.”
In our view, this is very positive, and testament to our desire to be a security partner of choice in Africa. It reflects an increase in military assistance engagement activities — all of which are requested and approved by the host nation. While we work to advance the security interests of the U.S., we are together addressing what are clearly shared security interests.
“The U.S. maintains a surprising number of bases in Africa”: This is incorrect. In the lexicon of the U.S. military, the word “base” implies a certain size, level of infrastructure, and permanence. Based on this widely accepted definition, other than our base at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, we do not have military bases in Africa, nor do we have plans to establish any. We do, however, have temporary facilities elsewhere in Africa that support much smaller numbers of personnel, usually for a specific activity. In all cases, our personnel are guests within the host-nation and work alongside or coordinate their activities with host-nation personnel. Some of these locations are fairly well developed while others are more austere.
For example, approximately 100 U.S. military advisors are dispersed among four nations in Central and East Africa providing advice and assistance to the national militaries working to end the threat posed by the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). We currently have small teams in Obo and Djema in the Central African Republic, Dungu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Nzara in South Sudan, and Entebbe in Uganda. In each location, we are working alongside the national militaries, helping to reinforce their efforts and strengthen collaboration and coordination, not conducting our own operations.
Similarly, there are humanitarian work sites in Ethiopian towns such as Humble, Hulla, and Dube, where Seabees and other U.S. military personnel have assisted in the past or are currently assisting with drilling wells, providing medical and veterinary assistance, or constructing schools and health clinics.
Finally, Thebephatswa Airbase in Molepolole, Botswana, is staffed and operated by Botswana Defence Force personnel (BDFP). There is no permanent U.S. presence on the airbase, nor has there ever been. The U.S. has partnered with Botswana for previous exercises at Thebephatswa Airbase and much of SOUTHERN ACCORD, a major bi-lateral exercise in August, will be conducted at Thebephatswa.
We also currently have warehousing privileges at Mombasa International Airport in Kenya, which includes the storage of equipment and rations. U.S. personnel do not manage the warehouses; the daily activities and running of the warehouse are handled by local nationals hired by the Embassy and funded by AFRICOM.
“100 to 200 U.S. commandos share a base with the Kenyan military at Manda Bay”: This is also incorrect. U.S. military personnel deployed to Manda Bay are primarily Civil Affairs, Seabees, and security personnel involved with military to military engagements with Kenyan forces and humanitarian initiatives. Simba was established in 2004 to provide support to U.S. military engagements with the Kenyan Navy. Its primary mission is to provide base/life support services to U.S. military personnel who are in the area for training and engagement activities with the Kenyan military, including maritime engagement and civil-military efforts.
“The U.S. also has had troops deployed in Mali”: To clarify, prior to the coup, the U.S. military had a longstanding military partnership with Mali. For several years, we had small teams regularly travel in and out of Mali for training activities with the Malian military; this includes conventional forces and special operations forces (SOF).
At the time of the military seizure on March 22, U.S. Africa Command had a small number of personnel in Mali who were supporting our military-to-military activities. Military assistance to Mali was suspended immediately following the seizure. U.S. government personnel from many agencies, including DoD, remained on stand-by in Bamako as negotiations continued toward a return to democratic, constitutional, civilian rule. Because of the continued uncertainty surrounding the outcome and consequences of the seizure, and the fact that military engagement had only been suspended, our personnel remained in Mali to provide assistance to the Embassy, maintain situational awareness on the unfolding events, and assist in coordination between U.S. Africa Command and the Embassy.
The U.S. State Department terminated foreign assistance to the government of Mali on April 10. The Department of Defense’s Defense Security Cooperation Agency received a memorandum from the State Department dated 19 April notifying the DoD of the coup designation and the termination of all military assistance programs. Upon receiving this notification from State Department, we began arranging the departure of personnel and equipment from Mali. All U.S. military personnel who were in Mali supporting military-to-military engagement activities have since departed Mali. Only those Department of Defense personnel regularly assigned to the Embassy (such as the Defense Attaché or U.S. Marine Corps guards) remain.
Also, the introduction to the story states it was recently “revealed” that three U.S. soldiers were killed in an accident in Mali in April and that “This is how we know that U.S. special operations forces were operating in chaotic, previously democratic Mali.” The fact is we issued a press release a day after the soldiers were killed, and the Associated Press, Xinhua, and AFP ran stories on the incident. It must be noted that the activities of U.S. military forces in Mali have been very public. We have published stories, fact sheets, and photos on our website, and Malian, U.S. and international reporters have covered these activities for some years.
“Additionally, U.S. Special Operations Forces are engaged in missions against the Lord’s Resistance Army”: While our forces live and work closely with African security forces, our focus is on enabling their ability to better conduct command and control, planning and coordination. Special Operations Forces are not directly involved in the African-led operation to remove the threat of the LRA. The mission for U.S. forces in Uganda, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Central African Republic (CAR), and South Sudan is to advise and assist local forces to better enable them to conduct their operations. As a matter of fact, in April 2012, we organized a four-day press event in Uganda and CAR, providing 18 local and international journalists’ access to cover the African-led counter-LRA mission. This visit resulted in extensive worldwide coverage of the story, which clearly articulated our advise and assist mission.
“And that’s still just a part of the story”: Yes, we’ve trained Ugandan, Burundian, and Djiboutian troops supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM). As part of the C-LRA media trip mentioned above, we also brought the media to visit the AMISOM train-up efforts — all taking place at a Uganda People’s Defense Force base outside Kampala, Uganda. This visit also resulted in extensive worldwide media coverage. We’ve also trained Senegalese and Rwandan troops supporting the UN Mission in Darfur (UNAMID), as well as peacekeepers from nearly a dozen other African countries. We apply the resources that we do have to help countries willing to contribute to multinational efforts like AMISOM or UNAMID so that they can continue their operations. Our engagement in this realm is in support of a State Department-led peacekeeping training program, which has trained more than 200,000 African peacekeepers from 25 African nations over the years. Recently we’ve seen positive results in Mogadishu, not only as a result of the U.S. support, but more importantly, because of the brave men and women of the AMISOM troop-contributing nations.
Like every Geographic Combatant Command, we have an exercise program with nations within our area of responsibility. We currently have 14 major bilateral and multilateral exercises that have been conducted or are planned for 2012 and as many in 2013. As you probably know, many security issues in Africa are best addressed multilaterally. Exercises are a critical engagement opportunity that not only allow for improvements to interoperability, but also foster greater regional cooperation and integration.
We also conduct some type of military training or military-to-military engagement or activity with nearly every country on the African continent. This is part of our effort to enable African nations to increase their defense capabilities. These activities are requested by the host nation and cleared by the U.S. embassies. Many are well covered by local press and highlighted on our website.
“Next year, even more American troops are likely to be on hand”: The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division will not deploy to Africa. Instead, the brigade acts as a single source to provide U.S. Army personnel to support activities already tasked to our Army service component, U.S. Army Africa. Previously, the requirements were distributed across the entire U.S. Army. Under this new construct, these same requirements will be filled from a single unit allowing personnel from this brigade to establish a level of expertise on the African continent. This change will not increase the number of Soldiers on the continent, but simplifies our internal processes for identifying Soldiers to support existing missions.
We must note that reports that leap to the conclusion that “3,000 Soldiers will deploy to Africa” are inaccurate. Small teams — whose numbers typically range from 3-12 — would be drawn from this unit to conduct deliberately planned engagements, training events, and exercises. Once or twice a year, to support a large-scale exercise, they may send a few hundred. This process is evolving. But, when their missions are complete, they return home. This can be compared to the SPMAGTF-12 cited in the article, whose Marines are not only doing great work for Uganda and Burundi and other partner nations, but also America, Americans, and American interests.
“Mercenary cargo carriers to skirt diplomatic clearance issues”: The choice of words is interesting and unfortunate. This is only one example where somewhat inflammatory language is used to make a point but at the expense of the credibility of the report. What exactly is a mercenary cargo carrier? Federal Express, DHL, Ethiopian Air, and other reputable air cargo companies we use to transport material? The choice to use contract carriers is based exclusively on cost and efficiency. And, to be very clear, we are always required to obtain diplomatic clearance and complete all customs formalities. It would be highly inappropriate and unethical to attempt to “skirt” country clearances. To do that would be an egregious violation of our values. In fact, since these actions appear to constitute criminal activity, we would be appreciative if Mr. Turse can provide us specific details, documents, or other evidence, in order to provide our Criminal Investigative Command (CID) a basis of information to start an investigation. To be perfectly clear, AFRICOM does not condone this type of behavior, anything you can do to provide us the needed evidence would be appreciated.
“Emergency Troop Housing”: All of the military construction projects you outline are included in the Defense Authorization Acts of FY 2010 and 2011 and are a matter of public record. However, the 300 additional Containerized Living Units (CLUs) are being built for people already living at Camp Lemonnier, either in tents or in other substandard housing, not for new arrivals.
We appreciate Mr. Turse contacting us for information and running our input in the final article. He followed up with us with a list of questions that required much more time than the one business day he gave us to answer. It took several days to conduct the research necessary to answer his questions; unfortunately, he chose to publish the story prior to receiving the answers, which he knew we were working on. If he had waited, we would have provided the information requested, which could have better informed his story. It takes time to gather information about locations in seven different countries.
Finally, I would encourage you and those who have interest in what we do to review our Website, www.AFRICOM.mil, and a new Defense Department Special Web Report on U.S. Africa Command at this link http://www.defense.gov/home/features/2012/0712_AFRICOM/.
Please do not hesitate to contact us in the future if you have any questions or need any additional information.
Colonel, U.S. Army
Director of Public Affairs
United States Africa Command
Nick Turse’s Response:
From: Nick Turse
To: Tom Davis
Dear Colonel Davis,
Thank you very much for your note. It’s flattering that you and your colleagues read my article, “Obama’s Scramble for Africa: Secret Wars, Secret Bases, and the Pentagon’s ‘New Spice Route’ in Africa ,” with such interest. It’s always gratifying to know that a piece has had an impact on readers.
I appreciate your regard for the “great deal of research” that I conducted and am grateful for the information that your command released to me. I do, however, object to your assertion that the article contained “several inaccuracies and misrepresentations.” Most of your “refutations” actually seem to corroborate my assertions and I believe that, by and large, your objections have largely to do with semantics and differences of interpretation. But let me respond, point by point:
“They call it the New Spice Route”: I’m glad to have you confirm this fact. I do, however, find it odd that you refer to this as an informal term, since this is how the supply network was referred to in an official military publication (Army Sustainment). In fact, the article by Lieutenant Colonel David Corrick was even titled “The New Spice Route for Africa.” To describe it as consisting of “primarily land shipments from Djibouti” also seems to run counter to the information in Lieutenant Colonel Corrick’s article. A map of “The New Spice Route” that appeared with his article indicates that the supply network consists of land and sea routes linking Mombasa, Kenya, and Manda Bay, Kenya; Mombasa and Garissa, Kenya; Mombasa and Nairobi, Kenya; Nairobi and Entebbe, Uganda; Mombasa and a Djiboutian port; and a Djiboutian port with Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. To complain about my calling it a “superpower’s superhighway,” on the basis of the total percentage of cargo that travels along the route, strikes me as nitpicking over a difference of interpretation.
Quite obviously, this is not how you would characterize it and I respect that. I see the matter differently, however. The United States is still a superpower — on this, I suspect, we would both agree — and this is the network by which it speeds food, fuel, and equipment to keep its operations in Africa running. I would also hasten to add that military personnel associated with the program characterize it not as some second-rate Djiboutian trucking effort, but as “innovative,” “high-tech,” and “transformational.” This is their language, not mine. Moreover, Lieutenant Colonel Corrick writes that the network is growing and that it “will eventually span all of Africa.”
“Fast-growing U.S. military presence in Africa”: You question this phrasing in my piece. Once again, your complaint about inaccuracy seems to me to be based on what is, at best, a matter of opinion — although I obviously believe that the facts demonstrate otherwise. To base the bulk of your contentions strictly on troop-level increases strikes me as a very limited way of assessing growth. The U.S. military “presence” anywhere is much more that simply a question of troop levels. (Nevertheless, given that the U.S. is technically not “at war” in Africa, the more than 200% increase in U.S. personnel there since 2005 seems striking to me.)
Back in 2003, the U.S. military hardly had a foothold in Africa. Today, there is a major base in Djibouti (now slated for many improvements and expansion), contingents of U.S. personnel have been deployed to the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Kenya, Mali, South Sudan, and the Seychelles Islands; troops have conducted operations in Burundi, Liberia, Somalia, and Uganda. Then there’s that expanding supply network I wrote about. There’s also the growing Tusker Sand program of aerial surveillance missions that the Washington Post exposed. You even state that AFRICOM conducts “some type of military training or military-to-military engagement or activity with nearly every country on the African continent.” The list goes on and on. I stand by this assessment and consider it well-documented.
“The U.S. maintains a surprising number of bases in Africa”: You deny that the places I identified are “bases.” I understand that you don’t label them as such, but that doesn’t mean others don’t. Let me start by noting this: I was more than fair in making certain that readers knew AFRICOM and I differed in our interpretations. At the beginning of my article, I explicitly noted: “According to Pat Barnes, a spokesman for U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), Camp Lemonnier serves as the only official U.S. base on the continent.”
Shortly thereafter, I again drew attention to this distinction, and our differing interpretations of what constitutes a base, when I wrote: “Today — official designations aside — the U.S. maintains a surprising number of bases in Africa.” Neither you personally nor the U.S. military are the ultimate arbiters of what constitutes a base. You have your own definition, nothing more. Webster’s begins its relevant entry on “base” as “the place from which a military force draws supplies…” That seems to encompass a good many facilities along that “New Spice Route” in Africa. But resorting to dictionaries, either yours or Webster’s, seems beside the point. When the Washington Post first wrote about U.S. operations in Obo in the Central African Republic, it began its article this way: “Behind razor wire and bamboo walls topped with security cameras sits one of the newest U.S. military outposts in Africa. U.S. Special Forces soldiers with tattooed forearms and sunglasses emerge daily in pickup trucks that carry weapons, supplies and interpreters…” Whether you call that an “outpost,” a “base,” or a “camp” matters little. It is clearly a protected compound that houses military personnel, supplies, and equipment. If it looks like a duck and it quacks like a duck…
Additionally, your letter could be read to imply that I claim the U.S. had outposts at Thebephatswa Airbase in Molepolole, Botswana, or Mombasa International Airport in Kenya. To be clear, I never wrote any such thing. I asked your command for comment for my article about these and other sites, but none was offered until your note, which arrived more than a week after the article was published. As such, I did not publish anything about these facilities. It seems that, just as I suspected, they have been or are currently integral to the U.S. military project in Africa, so I appreciate the information.
You will note that, in regard to Camp Gilbert in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia, and a Navy port facility in Djibouti, I specifically mentioned in my article that “AFRICOM did not respond to requests for further information on these posts before this article went to press.” To this day, no one has responded to my requests for information about these possible bases. What should I make of this pregnant silence?
“100 to 200 U.S. commandos share a base with the Kenyan military at Manda Bay”: You will need to take this up with the Washington Post. The sentence, in full, reads: “A recent investigation by the Washington Post revealed that contractor-operated surveillance aircraft based out of Entebbe, Uganda, are scouring the territory used by Kony’s LRA at the Pentagon’s behest, and that 100 to 200 U.S. commandos share a base with the Kenyan military at Manda Bay.” Specifically, the Washington Post states: “Manda Bay, Kenya: More than 100 U.S. commandos are based at a Kenyan military installation.”
To be clear, I did not want to rely on the Washington Post’s reporting, but was left with no choice. Ten days before my article was published, I specifically asked your spokesman about the troops stationed at Manda Bay as well as the nature of the operations there, but my questions were never answered. I asked in a slightly different manner six days before publication, but again received no answer. Your letter to my editor, more than a week after publication, was the first response I received on the subject from AFRICOM.
“The U.S. also has had troops deployed in Mali”: It seems that we are in total agreement that this statement is true.
“Additionally, U.S. Special Operations Forces are engaged in missions against the Lord’s Resistance Army”: We seem to be in agreement on this as well. I wrote nothing about tactical operations, gun battles, or anything of the sort. In fact, I even quote an AFRICOM spokesman who said, “U.S. military personnel working with regional militaries in the hunt for Joseph Kony are guests of the African security forces comprising the regional counter-LRA effort.” I don’t know how much clearer I could have been about that. What is very clear is that U.S. troops are thoroughly engaged in missions against the LRA. As an article by the Pentagon’s American Forces Press Service explicitly noted: “U.S. troops are providing information- and intelligence-sharing, logistics, communications and other enabling capabilities for host-nation troops pursuing Kony in Uganda, the Central African Republic, South Sudan and the Republic of the Congo.”
“And that’s still just a part of the story”: Given that, in your letter, you chronicle missions above and beyond those that I exposed, I’d say we agree on this point as well.
“Next year, even more American troops are likely to be on hand”: You begin by stating, “The 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 1st Infantry Division will not deploy to Africa.” I never said otherwise, only — and very specifically — that elements of this BCT would deploy. I never spoke of the full contingent, only units from it. As far as the numbers go, I apologize if these are incorrect. They are, however, publicly reported figures to which I explicitly provided a link as a form of citation. That article, in Army Times, is titled: “3,000 soldiers to serve in Africa next year.”
Once again, I did not want to have to use figures from a third party in assessing the size of the American contingent in Africa. In fact, I asked the AFRICOM spokesman at the Pentagon, in an email dated July 6th, whether the U.S. military presence (which he had already told me was approximately 5,000 at this moment) would grow, shrink, or stay about the same next year, but he never offered an answer. Nor did AFRICOM personnel at your headquarters, to whom he assured me that he passed along my questions, respond. In fact, weeks later, they still have not responded.
“Mercenary cargo carriers to skirt diplomatic clearance issues”: You object to my language once again, but don’t actually refute the facts. You ask: “What exactly is a mercenary cargo carrier?” I submit that it’s a person or company which supports military cargo operations for financial gain. The air carriers you mention are, indeed, military contractors which are supporting military operations for profit, largely unbeknownst to the American public. I firmly stand by this characterization.
You go on to write: “[W]e are always required to obtain diplomatic clearance and complete all customs formalities. It would be highly inappropriate and unethical to attempt to ‘skirt’ country clearances. To do that would be an egregious violation of our values. In fact, since these actions appear to constitute criminal activity, we would be appreciative if Mr. Turse can provide us specific details, documents, or other evidence, in order to provide our Criminal Investigative Command (CID) a basis of information to start an investigation.” To begin, I would refer CID to Major Joseph D. Gaddis of the U.S. Air Force for further information. In a section of an Army Sustainment article on air logistics in Africa, titled “The Diplomatic Clearance Hurdle,” Major Gaddis writes:
“A major question facing logisticians in Africa is whether the legwork of contracting airlift outweighs the challenges often associated with traditional methods of using U.S. military aircraft in Africa, which include lengthy processes to obtain diplomatic clearance. Carrying out a mission into most countries often requires 14 to 21 days of leadtime. For the Hungary based C−17 unit, this process can be as long as 30 to 45 days. When working with operations in landlocked countries, diplomatic over-flight clearance leadtimes reduce the flexibility of the DOD airlift system. Domestically registered contract aircraft do not have these clearance issues. Their simple country clearance process enables them to plan a flight in less than a day. Foreign civilian carriers operating in Africa (including U.S.-registered carriers) also face less diplomatic red tape and do not require the same lengthy clearance process as the U.S. military.”
Maj. Gaddis very clearly states: “Domestically registered contract aircraft do not have th[e] clearance issues” that affect U.S. military aircraft. He states explicitly that the U.S. can skirt lengthy authorization issues by using “Foreign civilian carriers operating in Africa… [which] face less diplomatic red tape and do not require the same lengthy clearance process as the U.S. military.” This suggests that the U.S. is making a conscious decision to shift from traditional and more overt methods of shipping equipment and supplies to more covert methods in order to subvert regulations put in place by African countries — or at the very least subvert the spirit of those regulations. While cutting “red tape” appears to be the primary reason for hiding behind contractors, I can’t help but see similarities between this effort and the use of generic-looking spy planes as part of Tusker Sand surveillance missions in Africa.
In any case, I would appreciate it if you would keep me apprised of any investigations or other actions that result from this information.
“Emergency Troop Housing”: Again, we seem to be in total agreement that the U.S. is constructing “Emergency Troop Housing” in Djibouti. You note that “the 300 additional Containerized Living Units (CLUs) are being built for people already living at Camp Lemonnier, either in tents or in other substandard housing, not for new arrivals.” I just want to make clear that I never said these CLUs were for “new arrivals.” It does, however, make me wonder about why that word “emergency” is being used for this new housing. I also question why — since you dispute that the U.S. presence in Africa is fast-growing — troops have been living in substandard housing? If there was no rush and you have plenty of time to plan for arrivals, why wasn’t adequate troop housing constructed in advance?
Finally, I respectfully take issue with your comments about my requests to AFRICOM for information for my article, which was published on July 12, 2012. As your records will attest, on May 29, 2012, I first asked for detailed information on the U.S. military presence in Africa, specifically bases — including those at which U.S. troops are guests of other nations. On June 6th, I received a rather superficial reply to which I followed up with questions, by phone or email — sometimes both — on July 2nd, 6th, and 9th. I even followed up after the story was published and was told I would be contacted with answers by Wednesday, July 16th, by a specific individual at AFRICOM. At this writing, on July 24th, I am still waiting to hear from him.
I also object to your claim that I “followed up… with a list of questions that required much more time than the one business day he gave us to answer.” To be frank, in my “business” there are no “business days.” And let’s be franker still: there aren’t any in yours, either. Other than holiday ceasefires and the like, I’ve never heard about the U.S. military taking a week off from a war or shutting down for the weekend. My work adheres to the same schedule.
Still, the list of questions to which you refer was first called in to your Pentagon spokesman on July 6th. He asked me to put them in writing, which I dutifully did. I sent those in and he assured me that he forwarded them on to your headquarters that same day. I followed up on the 9th and mentioned my looming deadline. I was told that AFRICOM headquarters might have some answers for me on the 10th. That day, however, came and went without a word. So did the 11th. We published the piece on the 12th.
Given that I’ve been requesting detailed information since May, I’m sorry to say that your letter rings a bit hollow when you write: “If he had waited, we would have provided the information requested, which could have better informed his story.” Two weeks later, I’m still waiting for a complete reply to my questions of July 6th (not to mention those of May 29th). I respectfully submit that a vigorous free press cannot be held hostage, waiting for information that might never arrive.
Quite obviously, we have different worldviews and differing opinions, but to say that my reporting contained several “inaccuracies and misrepresentations” is, I believe, a misrepresentation and I hope you will reconsider your words in light of my response above.
I believe that I was fair in my reporting. I gave ample space to AFRICOM’s views and contentions when they differed from mine, provided reasonable-sized quotes so that your spokesman was able to express AFRICOM’s opinions, and drew on respected mainstream publications for information when your command did not answer my questions. I would also submit that my reporting gives much greater voice to dissenting views than do the news articles/releases on the AFRICOM website. I gave your spokesman’s view on what constitutes a “base.” I would challenge your staff to do the same and grant, in news releases and responses to queries, that while the U.S. military might not consider a facility to be a “base,” others could have a different opinion.
Moreover, let me suggest that if AFRICOM were entirely transparent — and posting reams of information to your website is not the same as transparency — with America’s taxpayers about U.S. military operations in Africa, all of this could be avoided.
With this and future articles on U.S. operations in Africa, in mind, let me ask (with plenty of time to spare) for a full listing of all — as you term them — “temporary facilities” and any other sites where the United States has or has had “warehousing privileges,” construction projects, work sites, outposts, camps, facilities, laboratories, warehouses, supply depots, fuel storage, and the like in Africa since 2003, as well as supporting documents on the nature of the operations at these locations so that I can evaluate them for myself. If I had a clearer picture, I would certainly be in a better position to ask even more informed questions. Once that picture becomes clearer, I would hope that you would facilitate visits by me to these facilities for a first-hand look, so I could draw my own conclusions about their nature.
In addition to providing me with this information, I also hope you’ll allow me to call on you directly the next time I have questions about U.S. operations in Africa.
Thank you again for your interest in my work and for the information your command provided to me.
Associate Editor, TomDispatch.com
Copyright 2012 TomDispatch.com