After two years of tensions, U.S. signals willingness to expand military cooperation with Nigeria after May 29 inauguration of President Buhari

In spite of the human rights abuses of the Nigerian military that  have bedeviled U.S. military cooperation there, Secretary John Kerry and AFRICOM head Gen. David Rodriguez made a point to attend the May 29 inauguration of newly elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari to signal that the U.S. is open to new military cooperation.

U.S. Assistance to Nigeria to counter Boko Haram as of 2014

After the Boko Haram kidnapping of 276 schoolgirls in Chibok in the Northeast, the U.S. provided surveillance drones and circa. 30 intelligence and security experts to help the Nigerian military try to rescue them. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, AFRICOM’s top general, also rushed to Nigeria to assist the Nigerian commanders in the crisis.  The U.S. also offered a variety of programs to Nigeria in response to the Boko Haram attacks and the Chibook kidnapping.

“The United States is assisting the Nigerian government to undertake more concerted, effective, and responsible actions to ensure the safe return of those kidnapped by Boko Haram, including through on-the-ground technical assistance and expanded intelligence sharing.”

  • Multi-Disciplinary Team to advise the Nigerians on how to secure the safe return of those kidnapped, encourage a comprehensive approach to address insecurity, and establish a capacity to respond more effectively in the future, including protection of civilian populations and respects human rights.
  • Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance (ISR) to aid Nigeria’s efforts to locate the missing girls.
  • Sanctions against Boko Haram and its leaders as a terrorist group, including Rewards for Justice Program offering up to $7 million for information leading to capture of leaders.
  • Inclusion of Nigeria in the Security Governance Initiative (SGI) with multi-year funding promised.
  • Inclusion in the Trans-Sahara Counterterrorism Partnership, a U.S. effort to enhance regional security sector capacity to counter violent extremism, improve country and regional border and customs systems, strengthen financial controls, and build law enforcement and security sector capacity
  • A new $40 million Global Security Contingency Fund for Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria to counter Boko Haram by providing technical expertise, training, and equipment to the four countries.
  • A promise to work closely with other international partners, including the United Kingdom, France, and Canada, for information-sharing, alignment, and coordination on international strategies and programs to counter such threats.
  • USAID provides a $4.5 million, five-year (2010-15) program for trauma counselling to survivors and their families, including those directly affected by the Chibok abduction.
  • A $20-30 million crisis response program to provide basic education to internally displaced persons and others affected by the violence in the northeast.
  • Aa five-year, $120 million program to strengthen education systems to provide greater access and improve reading among primary school children.
  • UASAID support for a series of conferences, workshop, and training exercises in Kano and Sokoto states to promote tolerance across ethnic and religious lines through engagement with influential religious, traditional, and women leaders.
  • USAID funds for a Nigeria Regional Transition Initiative to improve stability and strengthen democratic institutions in northeast Nigeria.
  • State Department support for dialogue between local women activists and security-sector personnel and to highlight the role of female law-enforcement officers.

However, by May 2014, U.S. advisors and drone operators were pursuing Boko Haram from the base in N’Djamena, Chad instead of from Nigeria. The New York Times (5/21/2014) reported that:

American officials committed the administration to any effort to recover the girls safely. But they also made little attempt to mask their assessment that the Nigerian government, and specifically its military, must overcome entrenched corruption and incompetence to free the girls.  Ms. Sewall said that despite Nigeria’s $5.8 billion security budget this year, “corruption prevents supplies as basic as bullets and transport vehicles from reaching the front lines of the struggle against Boko Haram.” Morale is low, and desertions are common among soldiers in Nigeria’s Seventh Army Division, the main fighting unit in the northeast, Ms. Sewall said. Ms. Dory said that the Nigerian military’s heavy-handed tactics with Boko Haram risked “further harming and alienating local populations.

Seven months later, the drone flights have dwindled, many of the advisers have gone home and not one of the kidnapped girls has been found. Many are believed to have been married off to Boko Haram fighters, who in the past six months have seized hundreds more civilians, including children, planted bombs in Nigerian cities and captured entire towns.

Open tensions between U.S. and Nigerian Governments 2014-15

Petroleum in the U.S.-Nigeria Equation

Tensions between the two nations were heightened with the U.S. announcement in July 2014 that “…due to an increase in domestic production, it would no longer buy crude oil from Nigeria, which worsened the country’s ongoing financial crisis.”  For Nigeria, one of the top five exporters of oil to the U.S., this loss of sales of 1.3million barrels per day is a serious loss with oil as the source of 70% of the national budget, all of exports to the U.S. replaced at Gulf Coast refineries by fracked oil from fields in North Dakota, Texas, and elsewhere in the U.S.  Already, since this loss of oil revenue coincides with the increased Boko Haram attacks, the Nigerian government has authorized taking out a billion dollar loan from Western banks to finance the war against Boko Haram. “Oil analysts (10/2/2014) believe that Africa-US oil trade could completely stop in the next two-to-three years as other leading exporters, including Angola, Libya and Algeria, suffer the same fate as Nigeria.”

In November, NBC News (11/2/2014) reported that John Campbell, former U.S. ambassador to Nigeria, said “… that the country could descend into chaos if the price of oil falls beyond its current $78-a-barrel price (Editor note: crude oil was $59 per barrel on 6/5/2015), because its finances already have been pushed to the breaking point by oil “bunkering” – or theft by Nigerian officials – which he estimates represents around 10 percent of Nigerian production. “That oil finances the patronage, clientage network,” he said. “It is all illegal (but) it’s the grease to the system, and as the value falls … the grease dries up and the system doesn’t work.” And Carl Levan, a professor at American University and author of “Dictators and Democracy in African Development,” says turmoil in Nigeria could quickly spread through west Africa, already beset by long-running civil wars, an Ebola epidemic and political crises.”

The New York Times (12/31/2014) reported that Nigeria’s ambassador to the United States then accused the Obama administration of failing to support their fight against Boko Haram, which prompted the State Department to voice their condemnations of the Nigerian military’s dismal record of human rights violations.  The Pentagon also believed that the Nigerian commanders failed to act when the DOD drones did produce what it terms as “actionable intelligence” from the drone flight surveillance.

The Leahy Amendment and U.S. security assistance

In addition, United States direct security assistance to Nigeria has been sharply limited by American legal prohibitions of the Leahy Amendment of 1997 which prohibits the U.S. Departments of State and of Defense from providing military assistance to foreign military units that violate human rights with impunity.  In summer 2014, the U.S. blocked the sale of American-made Cobra attack helicopters to Nigeria from Israel, “… amid concerns in Washington about Nigeria’s ability to use and maintain that type of helicopter in its effort against Boko Haram, and continuing worries about Nigeria’s protection of civilians when conducting military operations.  In response, Nigeria’s Ambassador Mr. Adefuye “…accused Washington of failing to provide the lethal weapons needed to defeat Boko Haram.” In June, the Pentagon gave Nigeria some Toyota trucks, communications equipment, and body armor. “There is no use giving us the type of support that enables us to deliver light jabs to the terrorists when what we need to give them is the killer punch,” the ambassador said.”

Siobhán O’Grady (Foreign Policy 12/2/2014) reports that

Vanessa Hillman, a Pentagon spokeswoman, told  that ties between the two governments remain strong and that the Defense Department “is committed to the long tradition of partnership with Nigeria and will continue to engage future requests for cooperation and training.” The United States has long refused to provide arms to the Nigerian military, citing human rights violations, including financial fraud and torture in the military, that legally prevent them from offering such aid.

Despite these claims, the United States has previously provided military assistance to other countries facing claims of human rights violations, including Uganda, where a contingent of U.S. Special Forces are conducting a quiet hunt for Joseph Kony, the leader of the Lord’s Resistance Army, a rebel group notorious for its use of child soldiers. Although the United States has offered Nigeria other forms of aid, including training sessions for the military and the deployment of special intelligence units, the Obama administration’s refusal to provide military equipment has heightened political tensions between the two countries.

Nigeria cancels U.S. training but President Jonathan call for U.S. troops for Boko Haram conflict

“The strains between the two nations were especially apparent in November 2014, when the head of the United States Special Operations forces in Africa was barred from visiting a base where a new Nigerian battalion was being trained to help fight Boko Haram. In January, Pentagon officials made clear that they preferred to work with security officials in the neighboring countries of Cameroon, Chad and Niger in taking on Boko Haram.”  Then in December 2014, just weeks after the Nigerian ambassador to Washington blasted the U.S. military for not offering enough assistance to weaken Boko Haram, the Nigerian government canceled an American-run training program for a Nigerian battalion charged with battling the terrorist organization. The American embassy in Abuja announced the program’s elimination late Monday, saying that it came “at the request of the Nigerian government.” “We regret premature termination of this training, as it was to be the first in a larger planned project that would have trained additional units with the goal of helping the Nigerian Army build capacity to counter Boko Haram,” the statement said. (See details Foreign Policy, 12/2/2014)

In February 2015 in a Wall Street Journal interview (2/13/2015), Nigerian President Jonathan said he had been asking the U.S. since early 2014 to send combat soldiers along with military advisers to Nigeria to battle Boko Haram. (2/16/2015) reported that Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby responded quickly saying, “I can tell you that there are no plans as I speak here to send unilaterally, to send or to add US troops into Nigeria. There are no US troops operating in Nigeria,” he told reporters.  Kirby said the United States was in the early phases of helping establish a multi-national task force of African nations to help Nigeria defeat Boko Haram.”

Prior to  the election defeat of President Jonathan, the Nigerian Daily Times (4/18/2015) reports that a U.S. based group, the Christian Association of Nigerian-Americans, (CANAN), made an appeal to President Obama to renew U.S. military and technical assistance to Nigeria to improve the Nigerian government’s confronting terrorist activities within and outside Nigeria – in destroying and degrading Boko Haram including military options side by side with the regional force currently fighting the terrorists. They specifically called for and end to the U.S. blocking of Israel’s sale of Cobra military helicopters to Nigeria.

 U.S. signals new willingness to expand military cooperation with President Buhari in 2015

With the inauguration of newly-elected Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari on May 29, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and AFRICOM head General David Rodriguez attended the ceremony and raised the possibility of new U.S. assistance.

Michael Gordon of the New York Times reported from Abuja (May 29, 2015) that, “The election of Mr. Buhari, a former general who has vowed to make fighting Boko Haram a priority, has created a new opportunity to increase military aid….There was a strain in our relationship, particularly with the army on military cooperation, and we have every indication that we’ll be able to start a new chapter,” a State Department official said.”

Buhari has indicated a willingness to cooperate with the U.S. restriction to ensure that any Nigerian units that the U.S. would train as part of new program would need to be vetted to ensure that they were not linked to human rights abuses that violated provisions of the“Leahy laws.” New U.S. assistance is thought to focus on assisting with intelligence, providing advice on how to manage military logistics, and assistance with rehabilitation for the young women recovered from Boko Haram.


Amnesty International: Nigerian Military Abuses Rampant in War Against Boko Haram

From a new Amnesty International (AI) study, the New York Times, (6/3/2015) reports: “In the course of Nigeria’s war against the Boko Haram terrorist group, at least 7,000 people have died in government detention because of brutal conditions, an additional 1,200 have been “extrajudicially executed” by Nigerian security forces, and at least 20,000 have been “arbitrarily arrested” by the authorities…” – See the AI report Executive Summary (14 pp in PDF) or  entire report (133 pp in PDF format).

In response the  the Nigerian military denied the charges and accused Amnesty of being biased (Nigerian Nation (6/4/2015). “The Defence Headquarters has denied yesterday’s accusation by Amnesty International against senior military officers of the Nigerian Armed Forces…Lt-Gen Azubuike Ihejirika: In a statement released by the Defence Headquarters, said that the allegation was geared towards continuation of blackmail against the military hierarchy in which the organisation had embarked upon as far back as the inception of military’s action against terrorist in the North East.”

“The military said that their officers mentioned in the report had no reason to indulge in such acts and accused the organization of just going out to gather names of specified senior officers, in a calculated attempt to rubbish their reputation as well as the image of the military.”

VOA News (6/3/2015) reports that Army chief spokesman Major General Chris Olukolade,

“…dismissed the accusations leveled against the military. He says Nigerians should be assured that the military will not be deterred in the fight to rid the country of Boko Haram militants, despite the allegations. Olukolade says the rights group appears to have an agenda to undermine the army’s resolve to combat terrorism in the country. He says the military is considering additional actions to respond to Amnesty International’s accusations.  “Indeed, it is an unfortunate accusation considering all the efforts that are being made here to make sure that human rights are strictly observed in all our operations. And also the desperation with which that report appeared to have been targeted at blackmailing the Nigerian military and specific officers. The officers mentioned in that report have no reason whatsoever to indulge in allegations that have been made against them,” he said.  “It is unfortunate the organization just went out and gathered names of specific officers in a calculated attempt to rubbish their reputation as well as the image of the Nigerian military. The action, no doubt, depicts more of a premeditated indictment aimed at discrediting the country for whatever purpose which we don’t know at this moment,” he added.

This new AI report follows on the annual Amnesty International Report 2014/15 which detailed the many Boko Haram crimes and atrocities in 2014 but also recorded many human rights violations and violent atrocities committed by the Nigerian military in responding to Boko Haram (p. 274-275):

In responding to Boko Haram, Nigerian security forces committed grave human rights violations and acts which constitute crimes under international law. Arbitrary arrests by the military continued in northeast Nigeria. The military was known to enter communities, forcing the men to sit down outside in front of an informant in order to identify suspected Boko Haram members. Those singled out were detained by the military. In November the Nigerian military released at least 167 detainees from custody, a small portion of those arrested.

Detainees were denied access to the outside world, including lawyers, courts and families, and were held outside the protection of the law. Detainees were usually not informed of the reason for their arrest; their families were not given information about their fate or whereabouts. By the end of the year few, if any, of those detained by the military were brought before a court or permitted to challenge the lawfulness of their detention.

Many of those detained appeared to have been subjected to torture or other ill-treatment, as part of interrogations or as punishment. Detainees continued to die in military detention facilities as a result of torture or extremely harsh detention conditions. The government failed to investigate deaths in custody and denied the National Human Rights Commission access to military detention facilities.

On 14 March, Boko Haram gunmen attacked the Giwa military barracks in the town of Maiduguri, freeing several hundred detainees. Witnesses said that as the military regained control of the barracks, more than 640 people, mostly unarmed recaptured detainees, were extrajudicially executed in various locations in and around Maiduguri. One of those executions, captured in footage, shows people who appear to be members of the Nigerian military and the Civilian Joint Task Force (“Civilian” JTF) using a blade to slit the throats of five detainees, before dumping them in an open mass grave. Nine people were killed this way and, according to witnesses, other detainees seen in the video were shot.

In the new report, AI notes that, “The abuses constitute war crimes and possible crimes against humanity, the group contended in its 133-page report. It names a number of senior officers as responsible, including the Nigerian chief of defense staff, Alex Badeh.”

Since the beginning of the Boko Haram conflict the human rights abuses of the Nigerian military have bedeviled U.S. military cooperation.  After the Boko Haram kidnapping of 300 schoolgirls in Chibok in the Northeast, the U.S. provided surveillance drones and circa. 30 intelligence and security experts to help the Nigerian military try to rescue them. Gen. David M. Rodriguez, AFRICOM’s top general, also rushed to Nigeria to assist the Nigerian commanders in the crisis.  However, by May 2014, U.S. advisors and drone operators were pursuing Boko Haram from the base in N’Djamena, Chad instead of from Nigeria.

In May 2014, the New York Times (5/21/2014) reported that:

“American officials committed the administration to any effort to recover the girls safely. But they also made little attempt to mask their assessment that the Nigerian government, and specifically its military, must overcome entrenched corruption and incompetence to free the girls.  Ms. Sewall said that despite Nigeria’s $5.8 billion security budget this year, “corruption prevents supplies as basic as bullets and transport vehicles from reaching the front lines of the struggle against Boko Haram.” Morale is low, and desertions are common among soldiers in Nigeria’s Seventh Army Division, the main fighting unit in the northeast, Ms. Sewall said. Ms. Dory said that the Nigerian military’s heavy-handed tactics with Boko Haram risked “further harming and alienating local populations.”

Seven months later, the drone flights have dwindled, many of the advisers have gone home and not one of the kidnapped girls has been found. Many are believed to have been married off to Boko Haram fighters, who in the past six months have seized hundreds more civilians, including children, planted bombs in Nigerian cities and captured entire towns.”

See PDFs of all the Amnesty International Reports on Nigeria

Nigeria: Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military: Executive Summary, 6/3/2015, 14 pp. By Amnesty International, Index number: AFR 44/1661/2015 – In the course of security operations against Boko Haram in north-east Nigeria, Nigerian military forces have extrajudicially executed more than 1,200 people; they have arbitrarily arrested at least 20,000 people, mostly young men and boys; and have committed countless acts of torture. Hundreds, if not thousands, of Nigerians have become victims of enforced disappearance; and at least 7,000 people have died in military detention. Amnesty International has concluded that these acts constitute war crimes and may amount to crimes against humanity.

See entire report in PDF format 133 pp.: Nigeria: Stars on their shoulders. Blood on their hands: War crimes committed by the Nigerian military: Executive summary

Op-ed: Stars on Their Shoulders, Blood on Their Hands, By Salil Shetty, Amnesty International’s Secretary General., 3 June 2015

All Amnesty International Nigeria Reports

How technology helped us expose war crimes in Nigeria
By Christoph Koettl, Founder and editor of Amnesty’s Citizen Evidence Lab @ckoettl, 4 June 2015, 12:05 UTC – With citizen journalism and the availability of new technologies growing exponentially, human rights investigators are able to locate and review evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity at a speed never before imagined. Amnesty International’s Christoph Koettl explains how it’s done.

Crowded Djibouti hosting militaries from four nations: Now a China base

Ironically, the only “permanent” US AFRICOM base on the continent – Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti – host to many Army, Navy, Marine, Air Force, and CIA operations is being joined by new bases from Japan and China.   Djibouti, smaller in area than the City of Chicago, already hosts bases of 1,500 French  troops and several hundred Japanese troops. European Union naval units have a permanent military presence in Djibouti  as well.

Japan chooses Djibouti for First Foreign Base since WW II

Keizo Kitagawa, captain of Japan’s navy force and coordinator of the Djibouti deployment, told the French news agency,” Japan has chosen Djibouti for its suitable air and seaports as well as political stability.” The new base will include an airfield for Japan’s Lockheed Martin P-3 Orion maritime patrol aircraft and a permanent port facility. Kitagawa added, “This will be the only Japanese base outside our country and the first in Africa … We are deploying here to fight piracy and for our self-defence. Japan is a maritime nation and the increase in piracy in the Gulf of Aden, through which 20,000 vessels sail every year, is worrying.”

U.S. Leases Base at former French Camp Lemonnier djibouti_map

The Guardian (January 23, 2009) reported that Camp Lemonnier, a former French Foreign Legion base in Djibouti, also served as one of the CIA Black Sites for interrogation of detainees from 21 Middle Eastern countries during the Bush Administration’s Global War on TerrorAlJazeera America (May 2, 2015) reports on the Senate Intelligence Committee findings on Djibouti as a CIA Black Site, even though the Djibouti Government has denied hosting secret prison facilities for the U.S.  Over the last decade Lemonnier grew from a temporary U.S. outpost to a sprawling base hosting 4,000 troops, including special operations units with a $1.4 billion expansion plan now being executed.

During the May 2014 visit to Washington of Djibouti’s President Ismail Guelleh, the U.S. signed a new 10-year lease for the base.  “The lease contract is set for 10 years with an option for extension for 10 more years on the same terms, which were not officially disclosed. But according to officials from both sides Washington had to commit to more than double the rent it pays annually to Djibouti from roughly $30 million to $63 million. The US also will give $70 million economic aid annually to Djibouti for maintaining the base. After 20 years the price would be re-negotiated.

Eric Schmitt reported in the New York Times (May 15, 2014) that ,

The deal also appears to end speculation that Djibouti might lease a small parcel of land to Russia and grant it military landing rights at a time when relations between Washington and Moscow have badly deteriorated over the crisis in Ukraine. Russia has been an active contributor to the international antipiracy effort in the region since it first deployed warships in 2008.

China steps in

Now, China is negotiating to establish a base the and operate there as well. “China already is financing several major infrastructure projects estimated to total more than $9bn, including improved ports, airports and railway lines to landlocked Ethiopia, for which Djibouti is a lifeline port.”

Dangers at Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport

In addition, Craig Whitlock of the Washington Post reports that Djibouti’s crowded  base for scheduled commercial as well as military and CIA drones and counter-terrorism air operations, has become a site of serious tensions  between the U.S. military and intelligence operatives and local Djiboutian air controllers.

The skies above the U.S. military’s counterterrorism hub on the Horn of Africa have become chronically dangerous, with pilots forced to rely on local air-traffic controllers who fall asleep on the job, commit errors at astronomical rates and are hostile to Americans, documents show.dibouti-airport staff

Conditions at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti, the base for U.S. pilots flying sensitive missions over Yemen and Somalia, have become so dire that American warplanes and civilian airliners alike are routinely placed in jeopardy, according to federal aviation experts and documents obtained by The Washington Post under the Freedom of Information Act.

Unlike other major U.S. military bases around the world, Camp Lemonnier is wholly dependent on civilian air-traffic controllers, hired by the government of Djibouti to keep the skies safe. But as the base has increased in size and importance, the Djiboutian controllers’ hazardous habits and deep dislike for drones have disrupted U.S. military operations and triggered repeated warnings about the risk of an aviation catastrophe.

In 2013, Drone Djibouti imagesthe Djibouti government banned U.S. drones from using the main runways of the Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport after five crashes since January 2011 ,of the Predator drones returning to land there, one down near a local residential community. “The Pentagon has temporarily moved the unmanned aircraft from the U.S. base in Djibouti’s capital to a makeshift airstrip (Chabelley Airfield) in a more remote part of the country. U.S. military officials said the disruption has not affected their overall ability to launch drone strikes in the region, but they declined to say whether it has forced them to curtail the frequency of drone missions or hindered their surveillance of al-Shabab camps and fighters.”

Craig Whitlock (Washington Post September 2013) reported that the Chabelley Airfield, deeper in the desert away from Djibouti, with a new $228 million compound, will house up to 700 personnel for the highly secretive Joint Special Operations Command which is increasingly active in Africa.

New – Tomorrow’s Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa (Nick Turse)

With the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) boasting a 25% expansion in FY 2014 to 674 operations in Africa, (2015 AFRICOM Posture Statement),  Nick Turse’s new book,  Tomorrow’s Battlefield: US Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa (Haymarket, 2015,) is a timely survey of the nature and rationales for this explosion of AFRICOM’s military training, equipping, and intelligence and kinetic activities both on the continent and in the U.S. and Europe.  The 13 chapters  appeared originally between July 2012 and November 2014 in the TomDispatch blog, a project of the Nation Institute.  These have been updated, edited, and amended for this striking volume.

Nick Turse is an award-winning journalist and historian.  With a Ph.D. (Columbia) in sociomedical sciences, Turse was the 2009 recipient at the National Press Club of the Ridenhour Prize for Reportorial Distinction and the 2008 James Aronson Award for Social Justice Reporting from Hunter College. He has been the author/editor of several books including The Changing Face of Empire: Special Ops, Drones, Spies, Proxy Fighters, Secret Bases, and Cyberwarfare (Haymarket, 2012) and Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (Macmillan, paper 2013) He also is the managing editor of and a fellow at the Nation Institute.  He is a serious and persistent investigator seeking to expose AFRICOM’s “Gigantic ‘Small Footprint”: the Pivot to Africa in previous posts (2013) and this volume.  With the same title in Chapter 3 in this volume, he writes,

From north to south, east to west, the Horn of Africa to the Sahel, the heart of the continent to the islands off its coasts, the U.S. military is at work. Base construction, security cooperation engagements, training exercises, advisory deployments, special operations missions, and a growing logistics network, all undeniable evidence of expansion — except at U.S. Africa Command. To hear AFRICOM tell it, U.S. military involvement on the continent ranges from the miniscule to the microscopic.

The command is adamant that it has only a single “military base” in all of Africa: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. The head of the command insists that the U.S. military maintains a “small footprint” on the continent. AFRICOM’s chief spokesman has consistently minimized the scope of its operations and the number of facilities it maintains or shares with host nations, asserting that only “a small presence of personnel who conduct short-duration engagements” are operating from “several locations” on the continent at any given time…

…While Washington talks openly about rebalancing its military assets to Asia, a pivot to Africa is quietly and unmistakably underway. With the ever-present possibility of blowback from shadowy operations on the continent, the odds are that the results of that pivot will become increasingly evident, whether or not Americans recognize them as such. Behind closed doors, the military says: “Africa is the battlefield of tomorrow, today.” It remains to be seen just when they’ll say the same to the American people.

Turse’s chapters include:

1. America’s Shadow Wars in Africa: Obama’s Scramble for Africa

2, Blowback Central: The Terror Diaspora

3.  AFRICOM’s Gigantic “Small Footprint”: The Pivot to Africa

4.  American Proxy Wars in Africa: A New Model for Expeditionary Warfare

5.  Nonstop Ops: US  Military Averaging More Than a Mission a Day in Africa

6. AFRICOM Becomes a “War-Fighting Combatant Command”: Going to War on the Sly

7. The Pentagon, Libya, and Tomorrow’s Blowback Today: How Not To End Violence in a War-Torn Land

8. How “Benghazi” Birthed the New Normal in Africa: A Secret African Mission and an African Mission That’s No Secret

9. An East-West Showdown: China, America, and the New Cold War in Africa

10. Christmas in July and the Collapse of America’s Great African Experiment: As a Man-Made Famine Looms, Christmas comes early to South Sudan

11.American Monuments to Failure in Africa? How Not to Win Hearts and Minds

12. American “Success” and the Rise of West African Piracy: Pirates of the Gulf of Guinea

13. The Outpost That Doesn’t Exist in the Country You Can’t Locate: A Base Camp, an Authoritarian Regime, and the Future of US Blowback in Africa

Afterword: Finding Barack Obama in South Sudan

Appendix: US Africa Command Debates TomDispatch: An  Exchange on the Nature of US Military Presence  in Africa

Craig Whitlock, Pentagon correspondent for the Washington Post, comments, “A dogged and intrepid journalist who won’t take ‘no comment’ for an answer, Nick Turse has done a fantastic job of exposing the U.S. military’s expansion into Africa and the proliferation of its secret missions on the continent.”

And Noam Chomsky adds, “Nick Turse’s investigative reporting has revealed a remarkable picture of evolving US military operations in Africa that have been concealed from view, but have ominous portent, as he demonstrates vividly and in depth.”

The 223 page paperback is available from the publisher, HaymarketBooks ( and at various other distributors for $15.95, as a Google eBook for $9.99, and for Kindle for $10.99.  Read Tom Engelhardt’s comment introducing the launching of the book on the TomDispatch blog of April 14.

The roots of al-Shabab atrocities in Kenya: The long history of disruption in Somalia

Now al-Shabab has mounted a new traumatic massacre of 150 student innocents at Kenya’s Garissa University College on the heels of the the slaying of 67 at the Westgate  Shopping Mall in Nairobi in 2013.

Geographer Abdi Samatar at University of Minnesota, former president of the African Studies Association, research fellow at the University of Pretoria, and member of African Academy of Sciences writes that the deeper tragedy is,

… that the largest number of victims of al-Shabab are not Kenyans, Ugandans, or others, but Somalis in Somalia. Al-shabab has imposed an incredible tyranny on the population and has disabled them from rebuilding their war-torn country. The international community, including Africans, have been not only oblivious to the plight of the Somali people, but have turned them into a disposable political football since the collapse of their state in 1991.

For over 16 years the world watched warlord terrorists rape, loot and kill Somalis with impunity. In some instances, members of the international community used the warlords as clients to affect their agenda in Somalia. For instance, the value of the Somali shilling against the US dollar appreciated significantly in late 2005 and early 2006 as the market in Mogadishu realised that there was a flood of dollars coming into the city. The source of these was American intelligence sources that supported some of the warlords against what later became known as the Union of the Islamic Courts (UIC).

First it was Ethiopia. The UIC defeated the warlords and created peace in Mogadishu for the first time in 16 years and without any help from the international community. Rather than engaging with the UIC, the US and its African clients considered them as terrorists and Ethiopia was given the green light to invade and dismantle it. Ethiopian forces took over Mogadishu on December 25, 2006, and the prospect of a peaceful resurrection of Somalia perished.

Continue reading Samatar’s article on Kenya’s engagement in Somalia and the emerging Kenya-al Shabab conflict.

Samtar’s observations highlight several important lessons:

– the long-term costs of Western liaisons with local warlords and militias in fragile states such as Somali and Libya, as with CIA support in the 1980s of al Qaeda against the Soviets in Afghanistan;

– the positive possibilities and the importance of not rushing to label all Islamic movements as terrorist;

– the importance of seeking to negotiate with such local civic society movements as the Somali Union of Islamic Courts, especially in their early days in 2006  when they had defeated the warlords and established relative peace in Somalia, thereby engaging the support of the vast majority of Somalis; and

– the great dangers of foreign interventions in general and especially from adjoining nations (Ethiopia, Kenya) which contribute to the long-term civil disorder and loss of human and civil governance that we are witnessing now in Libya as well.

Dems in Congress oppose Obama’s draft Military Force Authorization, may affect Africa

Politico (2015-03-03) reports that “Key Democrats are hardening their opposition to President Barack Obama’s proposal for attacking Islamic militants in Iraq and Syria, raising fresh doubts the White House can win congressional approval of the plan as concerns grow over its handling of crises around the globe.” While the draft Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) from the White House targets ISIL in “Iraq, Syria, and the broader Middle East” (President’s letter), it also authorizes U.S. military action against forces “associated” with the terrorist group which could be defined as including al-Shabaab in Somalia, Boko Haram in Nigeria, Islamist militias in Libya, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) in Algeria, Mali, and Tunisia, and other African groups if they indicate support of the ISIL/ISIS caliphate.

In interviews this week, not a single Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee expressed support for the president’s war plan as written, “most demanding changes to limit the commander in chief’s authority and more explicitly prohibit sending troops into the conflict.”  Meanwhile, Republican “hawks” in the Senate reportedly are eager to move forward “for a more robust U.S. role against the terrorist group known as Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL).”

Both the Bush and Obama Administrations have continued to support U.S. military operations in Africa under the September 14, 2001 joint AUMF resolution of the  House and Senate, passed unanimously except for Rep. Barbara Lee, authorizing military action against those responsible for the September 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The resolution gives the President  authority to use “…all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks…or harbored such organizations or persons…”

ISIL-linked cells reportedly are being organized by North Africans who have fought in Syria and and are now returning to their home countries,” a source said. “It’s something that is very worrisome to the regimes in the area.  In 2014, several North African states have reported the arrest of dozens of suspected ISIL recruiters. The sources said the recruiters at first focused on sending young Muslims to the ISIL wars in Iraq and Syria.”

Even without an AUMF in Africa, the White House has approved broad CIA, AFRICOM, and SpecialOps (incl. Navy Seals) operations across Africa from Somalia to Mauritania, including armed and surveillance drones and drone bases, C-130 and helicopter gunships, and CIA operations and covert air monitoring. The New York Times reports that “Some Africa specialists expressed concern that setting up a drone base in Niger or in a neighboring country, even if only to fly surveillance missions, could alienate local people who may associate the distinctive aircraft with deadly attacks in Pakistan, Somalia and Yemen.” (See a fuller description of U.S. operations in Africa “AFRICOM’s Gigantic “Small Footprint” and map.)

In addition, in 2010 the Congress provided explicit authorization of operations against the Lords Resistance Army (LRA) in East Africa.   The authorization for the LRA action, the LRA Disarmament & Northern Uganda Recovery Act, provided only for “…political, economic, military, and intelligence support for viable multilateral efforts to protect civilians from the Lord’s Resistance Army, to apprehend or remove Joseph Kony and his top commanders from the battlefield in the continued absence of a negotiated solution, and to disarm and demobilize the remaining Lord’s Resistance Army fighters.”  This resulted in approximately 100 U.S. military advisor “boots on the ground” in this extended and, apparently, unsuccessful operation with the Ugandan and Sudanese military.



Somali al-Shabaab continues attacks on Kenya and announces threat to shopping malls in the West

The Harakat al-Shabaab al-Mujahidin in Somalia—commonly known as al-Shabaab, the militant wing of the Somali Council of Islamic Courts, continues its attacks on Kenya, whose military continues its campaigns in Somalia against the movement  as part of the African Union AMISOM operations with soldiers from Burundi and Uganda.  Now, having brought their attacks to Kenya and the Westgate Shopping Mall in September 2013, al-Shabaab is mounting new attacks in Kenya in 2014-15.

More than 21,000 African Union (AMISOM) troops from Kenya, Burundi, and Uganda are are operating in Somalia in cooperation with the CIA and the U.S. AFRICOM Special Forces. While AMIKSOM is alleged to have pushed al-Shabaab out of the capital Mogadishu, al-Shabaab continues sporadic attacks there, killing several with a car bomb at the Somali Parliament in July 2014 and killing 11 and injuring the deputy prime minister in a  suicide bombing attack on February 20, 2015al-Shabaab still controls some parts of Somalia while continuing  its retaliation campaign in both Kenya and Uganda for their military participation in the African Union AMISOM mobilization.

Now, a new al-Shabaab video calls for attacks on shopping malls in the United States, U.K., France, and Canada, presumably seeking to mobilize so-called “lone wolf” terrorists.  Government spokespersons in the four countries have downplayed any danger of immediate attacks but are calling on shoppers in the malls to “remain vigilant.”

With circa 30,000 immigrant and second generation Somalis in Minneapolis-St.Paul and allegedly more than 20 young persons having left Minneapolis to join al-Shabaab, some of the popular press is sounding the alarm for special dangers in that city for the Mall of America, e.g. “Somali Migrants in Minnesota are a Terror Threat to the Mall of America.” The mall with 400 stores and employing circa. 12,000 people has more visitors (ca. 40 million annually) than any other mall.

Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), a native of Minneapolis and the first Muslim elected to Congress, is a fan of the new Minnesota Somali organization Ka Joog (Somali for “stay away”—from radicalization, drugs, violence, gangs and other negative influences in the U.S.), an outreach effort mounted by Minneapolis Somalis. “Once they get to America,” Ellison argued, “Somalis face many of the same issues that non-Somalis face.”

“They are subject to everything else that low-income kids of color are subject to,” Ellison told Al Jazeera’s America Tonight. “But they have one more problem: They have Muslim names, and maybe their language skills are not that strong. So, they are vulnerable…to gang and criminal activity but also people saying, ‘Look, if you are going to be poor and black, why don’t you do it in a warmer climate where you speak the language?’”

And like it or not, the issue strikes a chord for some young Somali-Americans. “As we are trying to make a world for these kids to thrive in,” Ellison said, “they are dealing with cutting food stamps.”

Read more on Al Jazeera’s Flagship Blog on “Somali in America: Fighting stereotypes, and terrorist recruitment” .

Further Reading:

1) AfricaFocus: Focus on Somalia (Multiple articles, book recommendations, and other info sources)

2) From the Minneapolis Star Tribune:

Somalis in Minnesota: Still misunderstood: This is partly due to media coverage, which zeroes in on conflict and perceived risk, leaving good stories untold

New Somali refugee arrivals in Minnesota are increasing: After a dip in 2008, a second wave of Somali refugees is arriving in the state. But with fewer family ties, this group faces a new set of challenges.

Other resources:

Macalester College: Somali – Refugee & Immigrant Populations in Minneapolis

NPR: For Somalis In Minneapolis, Jihadi Recruiting Is A Recurring Nightmare


Obama proposes largest DOD budget ever for 2016

The White House proposal requests $534 billion, the largest base budget ever for the DOD, and larger than any Reagan Administration military budget, with a more than seven percent increase over 2015.  Requests include $10.6 billion alone for F-35 Fighter Jets, the most expensive, and, many allege, the most problem-plagued, weapons system in U.S. history.

The DOD would receive an additional $51 billion for its Overseas Contingency Operations war fund, even in the face of widespread acknowledgement that the Pentagon uses this money as a “slush fund” for non-war activities.

For example, the U.S. military has more members of the 158 military bands than there are diplomats in the State Department in the U.S. and abroad.

“The Pentagon itself has identified areas where it could cut back on wasteful spending, yet this budget asks for even more than the Pentagon already has.” notes the National Priorities Project (NPP). Altough the President has spoken about the importance of diplomacy before force, but the taxpayer dollars being allocated to war and military in this proposal do not appear to reflect that sentiment.”

This enriched budget will support the costly and rapidly accelerating operations of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM).

Read the full NPP analysis of the 2016 federal budget and the record increases proposed for the military and war at:

The terrors of Boko Haram and the Nigerian militaries and their militias

On Tuesday, Sep 9th, PBS Frontline broadcast  a terrifying documentary on the horrific torture and killings bythe Nigerian military and the militias they have created in response to the horrors of Boko Haram itself.  The 30-minute documentary can be viewed on the PBS Frontline website, and it provides video documenting what many have been alleging about the torture and murders of hundreds of civilians who are not proven Boko Haram members by the Nigerian Government’s military.

The New York Times summarized the Hunting Boko Haram piece:

Boko Haram, the radical Islamist group, has wreaked havoc on parts of Nigeria, most infamously by kidnapping scores of girls, an act that has brought worldwide outrage.

But Evan Williams, the producer and reporter of the segment, has secured a series of hard-to-watch videos that indicate that the hunt for Boko Haram has resulted in its own atrocities, apparently committed by the military and government-sponsored militias doing the hunting.

The videos show beatings and executions of people accused — often, Mr. Williams reports, without merit — of belonging to Boko Haram. The brutality, some witnesses say, has actually driven people to align with Boko Haram to escape these supposed saviors.

“Hunting Boko Haram” is produced by Evan Williams for WGBH/Frontline in association with Channel 4. Produced and reported by Mr. Williams; Frank Koughan and Mr. Edge, senior producers.

The possible responses to the Ebola outbreak are at least knowable. What the world should do about the horrors in Nigeria is far less clear.”

The Frontline piece includes comments by former U.S. Ambassador to Nigeria John Campbell  (May 20, 2004 to November 1, 2007), who visited U.S. Africa Command to speak about the impacts of regional security in sub-Saharan Africa as part of the Commander’s Speaker Series at the U.S. Africa Command Event Center in Stuttgart, Germany, July 1. Listen to Campbell’s talk on the  AFRICOM website.  Previously, Campbell wrote a critique of Nigeria and an interpretation of Boko Haram in a book,  Nigeria: Dancing on the Brink (2010).  Read Uche Igwe’s recent interesting resaponse to Campbell in “Was John Campbell right about Nigeria?” in Punch May 14, 2014.


Violence or vaccines: Which path for U.S. in Africa?

In response to Obama’s U.S. Africa Summit in Washington this last week, Michael Shank (Reuters, 2014-08-06) comments on the growing focus of the U.S. on military security on the continent: “[AFRICOM] staged more than 546 military exercises on the continent last year, a 217 percent increase since 2008 (when AFRICOM was founded), and is now involved in nearly 50 African countries. U.S. military and police aid to all Africa this year totaled nearly $1.8 billion, with additional arms sales surpassing $800 million.”

Going forward to address African insecurity, Shank argues,

….the African continent will need to work with the international community to counter security threats facing each country, whether food-, water- or resource-related, or problems with non-state actors. The question is how. More big-business engagement by multinationals like Coca-Cola (which pledged to invest $5 billion in Africa over six years) and Marriott Hotels, as President Barack Obama promised Tuesday in Washington at the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, won’t directly or immediately help the impoverished and unemployed on the streets of Mogadishu or the marginalized in northern Nigeria.
Africa-centric agendas, however, require longer game plans, with development strategies that are locally owned, locally administered and sustainably funded. The quick fix of a drone strike will likely only increase the continent’s instability. The same applies to the quick fix of top-down corporate funding or aid relief. The real terror on the continent remains the elusiveness of a sustainable, grass-roots development agenda that is genuinely inclusive.
That should be Washington’s focus. It’s time to stop looking at Africa through the barrel of a gun.

In a separate article in Politix (2014-08-07), Shank argues that the outcome of focus on violence and terrorism in Somalia and Libya has been particularly disastrous,

“The problem with many of the West’s policies on the African continent is that they tend to focus on the violence – e.g. weapons imports/exports, terrorist activity, homicide rates, violent demonstrations, conflicts fought, and violent crime (some of the top indicators on the GPI). That’s where U.S. administrations tend to direct the majority of funds, ignoring the very indicators that promote peace.

In the still violent and unstable Libya, for example, U.S. taxpayers spent half a million dollars on each of the several hundred Tomahawk missiles it rained down on the country, leaving its institutions and infrastructures in ruins, ignored and unrestored. The U.S. administration prioritized a military response in Libya but failed to prioritize that which would help her become less violent, whether it was a well-functioning government, equitable distribution of resources, human capital, lower corruption, sound business environments, the rights of others, free flow of information, or better relations with neighbors.

Libya is not unique. The story is the same in other places on the continent. Somalia got the same military treatment, leaving the thousands of unemployed youth to be recruited to al Shabaab for nothing more than $20 and a cell phone. Similarly, it is no surprise, for example, that some of the most unstable and insecure countries in Sub-Saharan Africa perform the poorest in the JustJobs Index’s ranking of countries with employment opportunity, income security, employment security, safety at work and healthy work conditions, equality of treatment and opportunity.”