The sustainable US military mission in Africa


Publicly, Africa may not be on the Trump administration’s radar, but it is a priority for the U.S. military. At present, seventeen hundred special forces and other military personnel undertake ninety-six missions in twenty-one countries, and the details of most are unknown to the Americans. The United States Special Operations Command in Africa is in charge of these missions, coordinating responses to what its leader, Brigadier General Donald C. Bolduc, calls “the threat.” Recently, I spoke with Bolduc about what the US military is doing on the continent. He said the Pentagon’s biggest fear in Africa was the spread of Daesh– that the group would establish itself in a remote or weakly governed region and use this territory as a base from which to develop. Daesh is in northern Somalia, he continued, and in Nigeria, where an aligned faction of Boko Haram controls the territory. It also influences and financially supports Al Qaeda operations in Mali. Besides the threat of Daesh, the command is also focusing on the dangers posed by dozens of other insurgent groups. Much of Africa is what Bolduc calls a “gray area”: ​​an unstable and uncertain environment due to issues arising from conflict, weather and natural disasters, and infinitely complex – although “not so complex as it is. you can’t solve the problems inside that. “Several of the command’s deployments are civil affairs teams, but the secrecy surrounding many missions has led observers to suspect that the US government is more involved in a nebulous war. than it suggests. This is particularly the case in Somalia, where President Trump has authorized the United States Africa Command to conduct airstrikes faster and more frequently. “We are not in this position. war in Africa, “Bolduc said.” But our partners are. “

Out of necessity, Bolduc says the command must send small teams of special forces to the countries where it operates. “African governments want a small American footprint. They look at what we have done in other places, and it scares them, ”he said. “Frankly, that scares me too. In Somalia, one of the continent’s most critical military theaters, hundreds of US troops are training Somali soldiers, participating in ground raids, and providing aerial assistance in the form of surveillance and strikes (in “our own self-defense Said Bolduc). The general, who is outspoken and fond of folk analogies, says American soldiers are often just around the corner with their Somali counterparts, and constantly on the radio with them, like “teaching a five-year-old to ride a bicycle, “But that they” cannot come into direct contact with the enemy “. (Although there is a chance of this kind of fight, he admitted.) The Time reported that the military is also using private contractors to help train Somali troops, which the command denies. The United States has long attempted to contain an insurgency it is partly responsible for creating, through its support for the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia in the mid-years, which instigated support for al-Shabaab. And that has long been a failure.

The renewed efforts of the United States in Africa are, in theory, now more democratic. Sharing intelligence with the military on the mainland, Bolduc said, was no longer a problem. After Boko Haram kidnapped hundreds of girls in northeast Nigeria in 2014, US military officials were unwilling to provide raw intelligence to the Nigerian government, apparently due to corruption in the Nigerian military and its possible infiltration by Boko Haram. But Bolduc said the problem stems from the military’s fear of not being able to control how a partner government uses intelligence; if any of their partners misuse the information, and possibly commit an atrocity or aid activists, the United States should not be held accountable, he continued. Since then, he and his deputies have been open with officers from the task force combating Boko Haram, which includes troops from Nigeria, Niger, Benin, Cameroon and Chad, about the data they receive on the group.

But the most lingering problem with US strategy in places like Somalia and northeastern Nigeria has been the inability of local armies to secure militant-occupied spaces on a lasting basis after troops moved to flush them out. Soldiers will arrive in an area, militants will disperse, and then armies will move, leaving towns and villages open to militants returning due to the lack of strong government institutions in those areas. The command has managed to achieve recent success in the semi-autonomous Puntland region of northern Somalia in trying to do the opposite. Puntland, which declared itself autonomous during the Somali civil war, does not have a standing army, but does have “reaction forces”, civilian police and militias belonging to the country’s powerful clans. Daesh captured the coastal port town of Qandala last October, then captured four other villages in Puntland, with the help of Daesh leaders, bomb makers and intelligence analysts from Yemen and Syria who have taken refuge in northern Somalia, Bolduc said. (Much of al-Shabaab, which is entrenched in the south, is resisting DaeshWhen the United States intervened to support Puntland’s efforts to regain territory, it was clear that the ground offensive would be led, indeed, by clan militias, which generally functioned as the private armies of the warlords. “You have to work with them, make them good guys,” Bolduc said. Its military advisers aimed to “help them do the right thing” and not, for example, to kill indiscriminately. In ten days, the force pushed Daesh cities and left teams in its wake to prevent militants from returning. Daesh The members have since been hiding in the mountains of Cal Madow in Somalia. While the United States has provided intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance to Puntland Airborne, it says it did not carry out airstrikes. “They won’t have any ownership of it if we take it for them and just give it to them on a silver platter,” Bolduc said. “They are going to fight for this.”

Bolduc considers himself one of the first to recognize the presence of Daesh in Sirte, Libya, in 2014, when others were still unwilling to appreciate the threat. “At the time, we were told Daesh and Libya would not be used in the same sentence, ”he said. By 2015, Daesh controlled the city. In southern Somalia, the United States is still trying to build a capable army – an effort spanning a decade – as it works with forces in neighboring Kenya, and in Nigeria, Cameroon, Chad. , in Niger, Morocco, Senegal, Tunisia, and Libya, to stem the rise of the Islamic State. In Morocco and Tunisia in particular, he is worried about the return of Daesh fighters; the two countries were the largest suppliers of foreign recruits to the group. The plan is to stay in these strategic countries until African governments develop their most vulnerable areas, in the hope that insurgents cannot enter and exploit lawlessness – a process that will take many years. “We have to make sure that what we have built is not going to collapse,” Bolduc said. “And we’re getting a good return on our investment. “


Comments are closed.