Monday, October 19, 2015

Even More on the US Military

In recent years, the US has quietly ramped up its military presence across Africa, even if it officially insists its footprint on the continent is light. For years, the United States Africa Command (known by the acronym AFRICOM) has downplayed the size and scope of its missions on the continent, and without large battalions of actual boots on the ground, as was the case in Afghanistan and Iraq, you’d be forgiven for missing its unfolding. US military officials are already starting to see Africa as the new battleground for fighting extremism, and have begun to roll out a flurry of logistical infrastructure and personnel from West to East – colloquially called the “ new spice route” – and roughly tracing the belt of volatility on the southern fringes of the Sahara Desert; the deployment to Cameroon is just the latest of many.

Officially, the US has only one permanent base in Africa, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, headquarters of the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). Concrete figures on the number of troops stationed there are sketchy, but various reports put it anything between 3,500 and 4,500 soldiers. It provides a vital base for US Special Forces, fighter planes and helicopters, as well as serving as a base for drone operations into Somalia and Yemen, and maritime surveillance in the Indian Ocean.

But the US has numerous other “temporary” bases across the continent, and though on their own they seem small, together they are sweeping and expansive, forming a seemingly endless string of engagements, projects and operations. There are drone ports in the Indian Ocean island of Seychelles, off the eastern coast of Africa, as well as in Ethiopia, in the southern region of Arba Minch, that provide support for flying intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance missions. Nzara in South Sudan is another shadowy operating post on the continent where U.S. Special Operations Forces have been stationed in recent years. Other “temporary sites” sites including Obo and Djema in the Central Africa Republic and Dungu in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). More than anything, however, the US conducts military exercises, training missions and advisory assignments with local African armies.

In 2014, the combined total of all US Africa Command activities on the continent  reached 674. In other words, US troops were carrying out almost two operations, exercises, or activities—from drone strikes to counterinsurgency instruction, intelligence gathering to marksmanship training—somewhere in Africa every day. This represents nearly a four-fold increase from the 172 “missions, activities, programmes, and exercises” that AFRICOM inherited from other commands when it began operations in 2008.

And it looks like the US is going to be in it for the long haul. Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti is currently undergoing a  $1.4billion upgrade, expanding everything from aircraft maintenance hangars, ammunition shelters, runway and taxiway extensions and accommodation facilities.
 Since 2002, the camp has grown from 88 acres to nearly 500 acres, and in 2013, 22 projects were underway there,  more than at any other US Navy base anywhere in the world.

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