News / Africa

Experts Scrutinize US Role in African Security

U.S.-led training of forces across Africa such as here in post-conflict Liberia is drawing new scrutiny (file photo)
U.S.-led training of forces across Africa such as here in post-conflict Liberia is drawing new scrutiny (file photo)
Nico Colombant

Concerns over the extent of U.S. military aid in war-torn Somalia as well as challenges for the U.S. military command structure in Africa are leading American experts to scrutinize the U.S. security role on the continent.  

At a briefing last week, Assistant Secretary of State Johnnie Carson denied recent media reports  that the United States is leading military efforts to help Somalia's government, known as the transitional federal government, or TFG, defeat insurgents.

"[The] United States does not plan, does not direct, and does not coordinate the military operations of the TFG," said Johnnie Carson. "And we have not and will not be providing direct support for any potential military offensives.  Further, we are not providing or paying for military advisors for the TFG.  There is no desire to Americanize the conflict in Somalia."

But important military ties exist.  Last year, a State Department official said the U.S. government had provided Somalia's transitional government with millions of dollars to buy weapons and ammunition.  U.S. contractors have also been involved in training Somalia's security forces.

Eighteen American soldiers died in Somalia in 1993 in the last major ground operation involving U.S. troops in Africa.  But important covert operations in conflict situations reportedly have continued, including in Somalia.  

In terms of U.S. security involvement for the continent, the United States established the U.S. Africa Command, or AFRICOM, in 2007.  Its commander, Army General William Ward, recently testified on Capitol Hill that the command is still based in Germany because, he said, public opinion in Africa makes it counter-productive to base its command there.  

Daniel Volman, director of the U.S.-based Africa Security Research Project, says this does not mean that AFRICOM is inactive.

"Even though, they are based in Stuttgart, General Ward and his people spend about half of their time on the African continent," said Daniel Volman. "They have also begun building up the level of U.S. military personnel at all the U.S. embassies, so they can have mini AFRICOM headquarters in every single country."

Volman says a growing U.S. need for natural resources is one of the main reasons the Defense Department developed AFRICOM, in light of instability in places such as oil-rich Nigeria.

"For the Pentagon, the nightmare scenario is that Nigeria will descend into chaos," he said. "Infighting in Nigeria will reach a point where oil production will actually be directly threatened, and then what do you do?  Do you send American troops into Nigeria?  And the people at the Pentagon are already doing war-gaming and contingency planning for that - not because they particularly want to do that, but because they recognize how important Nigeria is to the United States."

Mark Davidheiser, director of the newly-created U.S.-based Africa Peace and Conflict Network, says he believes that concerns over terrorism trump all else when it comes to AFRICOM.

"I mean the real concern is terrorism," said Mark Davidheiser. "That is what is motivating this program, I believe.  There has been a lot of worry about the lack of robust governance in Africa and the rather loose or patchy rule of law that exists in many places.  So the fear is that Africa can become a haven for extremists."

The United States has also had long standing military ties with African countries with fewer resources and no visible terrorist threat, such as Guinea, where recent years have been marked by power struggles within the military.  When former coup leader turned long-time president Lansana Conte died in late-2008, a soldier took over in a coup, before barely surviving an assassination attempt by another soldier.

Steven McDonald, an expert with the Africa program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars here in Washington, says the example of Guinea points to some of the challenges the United States faces in helping militaries in Africa.

"Whether they had seen it as a 'poster child' [leading example] in the sense of military relations or not, I kind of doubt that," said Steven McDonald. "I think there was a great deal of hope placed on it that there would be a different kind of transition there.  And I am sure there have been attempts behind the scenes to try to dissuade and recoup what has happened.  But it is probably just another example of why in smaller countries like that where it does not stand high on our priorities of interests in terms of our own national interest that we have very limited leverage, and we learn it when things like this happen."

Mark Davidheiser of the Africa Peace and Conflict Network regrets the emphasis that has been placed on U.S.-Africa military relations.

"It saddens me that that has been such a pillar of U.S. policy - giving military aid, training, sending advisors, training local military members by U.S. trainers, who often, history has shown, have turned around and then been involved in all sorts of brutalities and human rights violations against the populations there," he said.

In the case of Guinea, human rights groups say the country's military, which received support and training from the United States, was responsible for the killing of 150 demonstrators at a stadium in the capital Conakry last year.  Senior military officials have blamed renegade soldiers for the violence.

Guinea's military rulers now say they will not run in elections scheduled for June.  

U.S. military officials say they are actively training security forces across the African continent to fight not only terrorism, but also drug and human trafficking as well as piracy.   

You May Like

Lesotho Faces New Round of Violence, Political Crisis

Brutal killing of military officer has sent former leaders back into S. Africa where they're watching anxiously as regional officials head in to try to restore peace More

Video US Diplomat Expects Adoption of Bosnian Massacre Anniversary Resolution

Samantha Power says there's broad consensus about killings in Bosnia's war, but Russia calls resolution 'divisive,' backs UN countermeasure More

UN Report Exposes Widespread Boko Haram Atrocities

Damning report graphically details pattern of vicious, widespread atrocities committed by Islamist militants More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountaini
X
July 02, 2015 4:10 AM
Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Olympics Construction Scars Sacred Korean Mountain

Environmentalists in South Korea are protesting a Winter Olympics construction project to build a ski slope through a 500-year-old protected forest. Brian Padden reports that although there is strong national support for hosting the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, there are growing public concerns over the costs and possible ecological damage at the revered mountain.
Video

Video Xenophobia Victims in South Africa Flee Violence, Then Return

Many Malawians fled South Africa early this year after xenophobic attacks on African immigrants. But many quickly found life was no better at home and have returned to South Africa – often illegally and without jobs, and facing the tough task of having to start over. Lameck Masina and Anita Powell file from Johannesburg.
Video

Video Family of American Marine Calls for Release From Iranian Prison

As the crowd of journalists covering the Iran talks swells, so too do the opportunities for media coverage.  Hoping to catch the attention of high-level diplomats, the family of American-Iranian marine Amir Hekmati is in Vienna, pleading for his release from an Iranian prison after nearly 4 years.  VOA’s Heather Murdock reports from Vienna.
Video

Video UK Holds Terror Drill as MPs Mull Tunisia Response

After pledging a tough response to last Friday’s terror attack in Tunisia, which came just days before the 10th anniversary of the bomb attacks on London’s transport network, British security services are shifting their focus to overseas counter-terror operations. VOA's Henry Ridgwell has more.
Video

Video Obama on Cuba: This is What Change Looks Like

President Barack Obama says the United States will soon reopen its embassy in Cuba for the first time since 1961, ending a half-century of isolation. VOA White House correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.
Video

Video Hate Groups Spread Influence Via Internet

Hate groups of various kinds are using the Internet for propaganda and recruitment, and a Jewish human rights organization that monitors these groups, the Simon Wiesenthal Center, says their influence is growing. The messages are different, but the calls to hatred or violence are similar. VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports.
Video

Video US Silica Sand Mining Surge Worries Illinois Residents, Businesses

Increased domestic U.S. oil and gas production, thanks to advances known as “fracking,” has created a boom for other industries supporting that extraction. Demand for silica sand, used in fracking, could triple over the next five years. In the Midwest state of Illinois, people living near the mines are worried about how increased silica sand mining will affect their businesses and their health. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh has more in this first of a series of reports.
Video

Video Blind Somali Journalist Defies Odds in Mogadishu

Despite improving security in the last few years, Somalia remains one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist – even more so for someone who cannot see. Abdulaziz Billow has the story of journalist Abdifatah Hassan Kalgacal, who has been reporting from the Somali capital for the last decade despite being blind.
Video

Video Texas Defies Same-Sex Marriage Ruling

Texas state officials have criticized the US Supreme Court decision giving same-sex couples the right to marry nationwide. The attorney general of Texas says last week's decision did not overrule constitutional "rights of religious liberty," and therefore officials performing wedding services can refuse to perform them for same-sex couples if it is against their religious beliefs. Zlatica Hoke reports on the controversy.
Video

Video Rabbi Hits Road to Heal Jewish-Muslim Relations in France

France is on high alert after last week's terrorist attack near the city Lyon, just six months after deadly Paris shootings. The attack have added new tensions to relations between French Jews and Muslims. France’s Jewish and Muslim communities also share a common heritage, though, and as far as one French rabbi is concerned, they are destined to be friends. From the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, Lisa Bryant reports about Rabbi Michel Serfaty and his friendship bus.
Video

Video Saudi Leaks Expose ‘Checkbook Diplomacy’ In Battle With Iran

Saudi Arabia’s willingness to wield its oil money on the global diplomatic stage appears to have been laid bare, after the website WikiLeaks published tens of thousands of leaked cables from Riyadh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video In Kenya, Police Said to Shoot First, Ask Questions Later

An organization that documents torture and extrajudicial killings says Kenyan police were responsible for 1,252 shooting deaths in five cities, including Nairobi, between 2009 and 2014, representing 67 percent of all gun deaths in the areas reviewed. Gabe Joselow has more from Nairobi.

VOA Blogs