US military policy in Africa questioned

By Franklin El-Sayed

LAST January, a dozen al-Shabaab fighters infiltrated the perimeter of a military base in Manda bay, Kenya. One of them took aim with a rocket-propelled grenade, firing at a U.S. surveillance plane and touching of an hours’ long firefight. When it was all over, the two American pilots of that plane and a U.S. soldier were dead, two other U.S. military personnel had wounds, six surveillance aircrafts and a helicopter were destroyed, and part of the airfields were in flames.

Where there are U.S. bases, there is the potential for such attacks, because bases are not just launching pads for offensive military operations, but targets for them too.

Violent extremism and insecurities on the continent has increased exponentially during the very years that the U.S. has been building up its networks of bases, conducting persistent counterterrorism operations that include commando raids, in at least 13 African countries, and record number of U.S. airstrikes in Somalia.

According to the Defence Department’s Africa Centre for strategic studies, there are now roughly 25 active militant Islamist groups operating in Africa, up from just five in 2010, a jump of atleast 400 percent.

Militant Islamist activity also hit record levels in 2019. There were 3 471 reported violent events linked to these groups last year, a 1 105 percent increase since 2009. Reported fatalities resulting from African militant Islamist group activities also increased last year to an estimated 10 460 deaths.

In the face of the deteriorating situation in Africa, some expects question the US policy on the continent.

“The current, overly militarized approach to fighting terrorism in Africa is not working,” said William Hartung, the director of the security project at the centre of International Policy. “As the U.S. footprint and military activities have increased terrorist violence have increased and terrorist groups have proliferated.”

In recent years the U.S. military has carried out no fewer than 36 named operations and activities in Africa, including at least eight “127-echo” programs which are named for the budgetary authority that allows U.S. Special Operations forces to use host-nation military units as proxies in missions aimed at violent extremist organizations (VEOs).

Run by joint Special Operation Command, the Secretive organisation that controls the Navy’s SEAL Team 6 and the Army’s Delta Force, or by theatre special operations force, these 80- to 120- person units, operating with the assistance of U.S. commandos, are primarily engaged in counterterrorism operations, especially ones aimed at high-valued targets.

The 2019 AFRICOM planning document notes that U.S. forces will continue to conduct counter-VEO-focused activities.

Nevertheless, a recent Defence Department’s Inspector general’s report examining U.S. counterterrorism efforts in Africa, raised serious questions about effectiveness of AFRICPM activity.

Even after a decade-plus spent fighting militants in Somalia, “the threat posed by al Shabaab and ISIS-Somalia in East Africa remains ‘high,’ despite continued U.S. airstrikes and training of Somalia Security forces, “the Defence Intelligence Agency told the Inspector General.

The DoDIG’s assessment to West Africa was even drier. “VEO violence in West Africa grew rapidly over the past few 2 years; in Burkina Faso, Mali and Western Niger, VEO violence increased by 250 percent since 2018,” according to the report.

AFRICOM told the DoDIG that security in West Africa continued to deteriorate during the final quarter of 2019 as terrorist groups “launched a growing number of offensive attacks against military facilities and troops … often resulting in large numbers of casualties” to U.S.-allied armed force.

“VEOs in West Africa are not degraded nor contained to the Sahel and Lake Chad region,” command admitted.

Given the current state of affairs, it raises the question of whether AFRICOM should continue to be present on the African continent. It seems that the underlying drivers of terrorism, like poverty and unemployment, do not have military solutions.

At the same time, the US troops only provoke hatred and endless counter-attacks from Islamic fundamentalist and even cannot defend themselves. Following from this, the remedy to the solution lie in increasing economic development of Africa and decisive refutation of military assistance of the US and its West European allies.