Monday, March 17, 2008

Africom Again

In a key briefing to Congress on 13 March, General William "Kip" Ward, head of the US Command for Africa, AFRICOM, devoted only 15 seconds of his four-and-a-half minute opening remarks to a possible humanitarian role. His remarks came in sharp contrast to a year ago when officials announced that the command would concentrate on humanitarian assistance.

Real Reasons for AFRICOM

Professional military officers have made it clear that the new Africa Command has three main purposes.

First and foremost, the new command's main mission is to protect American access to Africa's oil and other resources, preferably by enhancing the ability of African allies to guard these resources themselves on behalf of the United States. But, to prepare for the day that Washington decides to try to use American troops in a desperate bid to keep them flowing, the United States is also acquiring access to local African military bases and dramatically expanding its naval presence off Africa's coastline, especially in the oil-rich Gulf of Guinea region. Imports from Africa are expected to reach 25% by 2015, making Africa one of the largest future suppliers of U.S. oil - larger even than the Persian Gulf.

The new command will also expand and intensify counter-terrorism operations in Africa and will make the continent a central battlefield in the Global War on Terror. Through AFRICOM, the Pentagon will intensify and extend U.S. counter-terrorism operations in Africa as well as its involvement in counter-insurgency warfare and other internal security operations in African countries. American troops are already engaged in combat operations in Somalia where air and naval strikes aimed at alleged al-Qaeda members instead killed dozens of Somali civilians in January and June 2007 and U.S. troops were engaged in combat-support operations in Mali in September 2007.

Finally, the new command is designed to counter China's efforts to increase its influence and its access to African oil and other raw materials. The creation of AFRICOM is one element of a broad effort to develop a "grand strategy" on the part of the United States to compete with, and eventually restrain China's activities. It is also intended to demonstrate to Beijing that Washington will match China's actions, thus serving as a warning to Chinese leaders that they should restrain themselves or face possible consequences to their relationship with America as well as to their interests in Africa.

Africans are not asking for AFRICOM. In fact, most African civilians, governments, and many regional bodies have voiced a vehement "no" to the presence of an American military force in their backyard...Not only are the activities and structure of the command contentious, but the issue of erecting a headquarters on the continent is particularly alarming, especially to Africans. ...If history is any indication, the United States will prioritize its headquarters construction on what is in the strategic best interest of the United States, regardless of the consequences for democracy and human rights in Africa... Many African governments and regional bodies have noted the potential for further militarization and have voiced objection to a headquarters on the continent. According to Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Defense Minister Mosiuoa Lekota, "Africa has to avoid the presence of foreign forces on its soil, particularly if any influx of soldiers might affect relations between sister African countries." SADC is comprised of 14 southern African nations and has adopted a regional stance against AFRICOM and foreign military presence. As such, the Pentagon has made a concerted effort to shift the rhetoric away from "base" or "headquarters" and toward "lilypad" or "office." Regardless of the language or the final outcome, AFRICOM will have access to several military bases on the continent and will use the surrounding waters to push Bush's defense agenda forward.

Further info at Resist AFRICOM

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