What’s the U.S. Military Doing in Africa?

The latest operations on the continent are "shadow wars" that claim to prevent terrorism before it can reach U.S. shores.

Posted: 08/15/2012 02:43 PM EDT
U.S. Army in the Central African Republic

Beyond the better-known U.S. military involvement in Libya and in Uganda aiding the search for Joseph Kony, operations across Africa have increased significantly and, despite military denials, there are signs that our presence on the African continent won’t be just a limited engagement.

The U.S. is most intimately involved in Somalia, where the transitional government is still trying to establish rule amid al-Qaida affiliate al-Shabab’s efforts to wrest control of the country. Now, however, reports point to U.S. involvement in other areas of the continent and such as West and Central Africa, with allegations that military is preparing for even more involvement on the continent with the purchases of drones, weapons and most important of all, housing units for personnel.

Explaining the involvement in Somalia as an anti-terrorism measure, Commander of the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM), General Carter F. Ham said, “as an al-Qaeda affiliate, they [Al Shabab] clearly present a threat to America and Americans. Thirdly — or secondly, they deny the assistance to Somali people who need it quite desperately. And thirdly, al-Shabaab very much undermines the efforts of the Transitional Federal Government to establish legitimate control throughout Somalia. So that, I think, is one of the areas that we're engaged in.”

Ham has also defended AFRICOM’s mission by stating that outside of the base in Djibouti and the troops training fighters to find Kony, the U.S. keeps “really only small, temporary presence of U.S. military personnel, other than the attaches and the offices of security cooperation, which are resident inside the U.S. embassies.”

However, while counter-terrorism message is one that resonates with Americans, there are concerns about how far the military’s “Africa mission” will go in pursuit of its goals. New reports allege that the U.S. is engaged in concurrent, clandestine “shadow wars” on the continent, making use of drones and private contractors to do the do the spying and general dirty work that the military can’t.

According to a Washington Post report, contractors hired by the U.S. supply the aircraft pilots, mechanics and other personnel to gather and process intelligence collected nations such as Uganda, Congo, South Sudan and the Central African Republic.

Although often effective, the U.S. approach to foreign intervention isn’t often without its own fallout.

The U.S./NATO intervention into Libya, aimed at toppling Moammar Gadhafi’s regime, was widely lauded for removing Gadhafi from office. But months later, the surge of weapons left in Libya gave a well-armed group of Tuareg militants the capacity to destabilize the north of Mali, ruining both the fragile peace the country enjoyed and the historical gem of Timbuktu.


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(Photo: Ben Curtis / Associated Press)