Monday, October 05, 2015

The USA in CAR

The Central African Republic is rich in gold, diamonds, timber and uranium. The landlocked state has a landmass equivalent to that of its former colonial ruler France, yet a population less than 10 percent of France’s. Since gaining independence from France in 1960, the country has witnessed five coup d’états, some with French covert involvement. It is teetering on the brink of catastrophe, with millions of people cut off from vital humanitarian aid amid a renewal of deadly sectarian clashes. In the past week, dozens of civilians have been killed in clashes between Christian and Muslim militias in the Central African Republic’s capital, Bangui. The latest round of violence was sparked after a Muslim taxi driver was attacked and decapitated by machete-wielding gangs. That in turn led to reprisals against Christian communities. UN humanitarian aid chief Stephen O’Brien warned that the country was on the brink of disaster with more than 40,000 people having fled the capital in recent days. In total, some 2.7 million people – half the country’s population – are at risk of being cut-off from the humanitarian aid upon which they depend for survival. The worsening sectarian strife is simply making it too dangerous for relief agencies to operate. Thousands of civilians have been killed so far in the two-year sectarian cycle of violence, with millions of people displaced, often seeking shelter in makeshift hideouts.

Potentially adding fuel to this crisis is the disclosure last week that US Special Forces are liaising with one of the militia sides in the Central African Republic (CAR). The group the US forces have struck up a liaison with are known as the Seleka rebels, whose members are mainly Muslim. For the past two years, the Seleka have engaged in a low-intensity war with the rival Christian “anti-Balaka” faction in a power struggle for control of the country. Last week, the Washington Post reported that American special forces had set up a base in the northeast of CAR, where the Seleka militia has their stronghold. “The Pentagon had not previously disclosed that it is cooperating with Seleka and obtaining intelligence from the rebels. The arrangement has made some US troops uncomfortable,” according to the Post. The stated objective of the US military is to hunt down a notorious warlord, Joseph Kony, who runs a guerrilla outfit known as the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA). Kony and his LRA are believed to be responsible for mass atrocities and the recruitment of child soldiers. Originally from Uganda, Kony and his LRA gained notoriety when a US-based charity Invisible Children released a video nearly four years ago publicizing the group’s violations. With various American celebrities endorsing the video, US President Barack Obama sent Special Forces to four African countries with the mission of tracking down Kony and his accomplices. Those countries include Uganda, South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. In this elusive hunt for warlord Kony and his LRA, the US military are turning to the Seleka militia for “intelligence”. But, as noted, that liaison with the Seleka is causing some disquiet among the US troops on the ground. This is because the Seleka have gained a reputation for atrocities on par with those of Kony and the LRA, including murdering civilians, raping women and recruiting child soldiers into their ranks. The Christian anti-Balaka has carried out as many atrocities against the minority Muslim community in the country.

The dubious mission of US special forces in the jungles of Africa – allegedly to catch a warlord – is having the effect of aligning Washington in a festering civil war, and alongside elements whose hands are dripping with blood. The scene is being set for an even bloodier escalation. Washington’s involvement may so far appear to be a clandestine factor but it is no less incendiary.

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