As part of our special investigation “Mission Creep: US Military Presence Worldwide,” we asked a host of military thinkers to contribute their two cents on topics relating to global Pentagon strategy. (You can access the archive here.)
The following dispatch comes from Nick Turse, associate editor and research director of Tomdispatch.com, and author of The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives.
The Pentagon’s Mad Scramble for Africa
On October 1, according to the Defense Department, the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) will finally become an “independent unified command.” And while recently proposed budget cuts may hold the new command’s ambitions somewhat in check, they aren’t likely to significantly alter the Pentagon’s ambitions for Africa and an increasingly permanent US military presence on the continent in the years ahead.
The Pentagon claims that its Africa efforts are focused on “war prevention rather than war fighting” and that AFRICOM is designed to foster “a more stable environment in which political and economic growth can take place.” But as Chalmers Johnson noted in his 2004 bestseller, The Sorrows of Empire, the sites of greatest US interest in Africa appear “likely to play a role in the future similar to that of Central Asia today,” namely a site for the US to acquire “more oil and more bases.”
In the past eight years, the number of US troops deployed to Africa has nearly quintupled. By March 2000, small numbers of US troops were stationed in 30 African nations, but as of March, America had troops in 37 nations ranging—according to the Pentagon’s public figures—from 1 lone Army rep in Sierra Leone to 2,400 Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marine personnel in Djibouti—home to the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).
The Combined Joint Task Force, the US military’s major African effort of recent years, arrived in the region in late 2002 and set up shop at Djibouti’s Camp Lemonier in May 2003. In 2006, Major General Tim Ghormley, then the commander of the task force, told me via email that Lemonier—an old French Foreign Legion base vacated in the 1970s—was an “‘expeditionary camp.” Ghormley also noted that the base, a major foreign outpost, was garrisoned not only by US troops, but also by representatives from the State Department, private contractors supplied by “Kellogg Brown and Root (now simply KBR), ITT, Titan, and Army and Air Force Exchange Services (AAFES), and more than two dozen coalition forces representing countries such as the United Kingdom, France, the Netherlands, Romania, Egypt, and the Republic of Korea.”
To this list, AFRICOM now adds civilian employees, and representatives of Coalition and partner countries Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Uganda, Somalia, Sudan, Tanzania, Yemen, Seychelles, Comoros, Mauritius, and Madagascar. Even as it bolsters its Djibouti base with larger numbers of foreign troops, AFRICOM aims to distance itself from the specter of colonial occupation that hangs over its old imperial outpost. Earlier this year, General William E. “Kip” Ward, AFRICOM’s current commander, characterized Lemonier not as “expeditionary” but as an “enduring Forward Operating Site.” Just as Ward calls it a “site” rather than a base, Ghormley, too, took pains to stress that Lemonier is only “a temporary establishment.”
The amount of money the US has sunk into Djibouti in recent years, however, suggests the US military has no intention of leaving any time soon. In 2004, to offer just one example, Kellogg, Brown & Root took in more than $45 million from the DOD for work in Djibouti. The next year, that figure rose to $85 million; in 2006, it was $77 million; and last year KBR took home another $42 million for its services. Other big-time defense contractors like Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman also took home millions of federal dollars for their work in Djibouti last year. Whatever becomes of the new command and its budget, the increased number of boots on the ground at Camp Lemonier, and the flurry of contracting suggest the DOD is investing for the long-haul.
Moreover, defense contracts doled out for work elsewhere in Africa, including in Botswana, the Central African Republic, Chad, and Comoros, to name a few, suggest that the Pentagon is now active in some fashion over nearly 70 percent of the continent, and that its scramble for post-colonial Africa has only just begun.