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Americans in Africa

Helmut Sorge | Posted : July 04, 2018


Colonel Raul Rivas arrived in dress uniform, his parachute citations well polished. His ribbons for bravery and combat duty were aligned at the upper left-hand side of his jacket, a colorful display of combat, death and battles in Afghanistan and Iraq. 

The Colonel, just a few years above 40, and despite his 21 years in the military, was as “proud of being an American as one can be,” a true patriot. He jumped out of planes and risked his life in combat and some of his close friends had been K.I.A, killed in action. His parents were immigrants, Mexicans, but the Colonel does not want to get into discussions on the inhumane treatment of Hispanics at the border. 

Donald Trump is his Commander in Chief and he has to obey his orders. In a few years, Raul Rivas may be promoted to General. Not bad for a Mexican immigrant kid, whose male fellow citizens were declared collectively by Trump as rapists. The Colonel’s brother, by the way, is professor at the University of Louisville, Kentucky, the birthplace of Muhammed Ali. 

Colonel Raul Rivas is the Chief of Plans and Strategy Division, U.S. Africa Command and based near Stuttgart, Germany. His direct boss is a Marine Corps General--Thomas Waldhauser, appointed by President Barack Obama to lead the “U.S. Africa Command.” Such closeness could be fatal for a career in the shadow of Donald Trump, but the secretary of defense is a Marine Corps veteran, a General, and the chief of staff of the White House as well. They are close those marines. They did survive battles together and are connected through life, Semper Fidelis, always faithful, is the motto of the marines, a tough group of people. 

Not easy for a President, who avoided duty in Vietnam because of a sore foot, to fire such a respected hero. A few months ago, the General had an appointment with Senators and Congresspersons of the Armed Services Committee’s to detail the American efforts on the African continent. The so-called “Posture statement.” One of the fundamental messages to Congress by the General: 

“None of Africa’s challenges can be resolved through the use of military force as the primary agent of change.” 

And the strategic approach of the Pentagon, the Commander of the American Africa Corps stated, emphasizes: 

“US military capabilities employed in a supporting role, not as principal participants in armed conflict.”


Security operations are executed almost exclusively by the partnered security force. Washington understood the desire of the African nations to liberate themselves once and for all of colonial control and dominance. As Waldhauser states: “African leaders tell us how important it is to develop ‘African solutions to African problems.’” 

A calm, reflected presentation, which took Africa’s poverty into consideration, tribal wars, the extreme violent organizations (EVO) like ISIS, al Shabab in Somalia, remnants of al Qaeda in Libya. Niger is, the General believes, at the crossroad of regional instability: Boko Haram, ISIS-West Africa, ISIS Greater Sahara, Jamaat Nusrat al Islam wal-Muslimin and affiliated extremist groups in the region; spillover from the Mali conflict in the west; instability emanating from Libya to the north; and a large flow of would be migrants to Europe who converge on Agadez en route to Libya. 

Despite, or because, the unrest, the U.S. military does not have a direct combat mission in Niger. Instead, U.S. Africa Command has provided training and equipment to the Nigerien Armed Forces and, through the Trans Sahara Counter Terrorism partnership (since 2005), advises and assists certain Nigerien combat units. In the planning: U.S. Africa Command is establishing an expeditionary “contingency support location” in Agadez, a Nigerien base from which the US will fly ISR assets, surveillance and reconnaissance systems, manned or unmanned aircraft, to better identify and monitor threats in the region. Colonel Rivas did not contradict his superior and did not switch into a Presidential “fire and fury” modus.


The Colonel stayed close to the message presented by General Waldhauser in Congress when Rivas introduced the newest Pentagon plans for Africa to the experts at the “African Peace and Security Annual Conference,” organized by the OCP Policy Center in Rabat: “U.S. Africa Command activities directly support U.S. diplomatic and development efforts in Africa. Working with our interagency partners, primarily the Department of State and US Agency for International Development, is a core tenet of our strategic approach in Africa, including the African Union, the European Union, regional African economic and security communities, and the United Nations,” not Trump’s best friends. 

Rivas reflected Waldhauser’s thoughts offered to Congress in Washington: “U.S. Command, with partners, strengthens security forces, counters transnational threats, and conducts crisis response in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability and prosperity.” Again, reluctance to engage in local armed conflicts directly: “U.S. Africa Command supports our African partners in building the capability and the capacity to develop local solutions to radicalization, destabilization and persistent conflict.” 
Africa, no doubt, is not a Washington priority and certainly does not preoccupy the majority of Americans, who never ever requested an American passport to travel abroad and never will. 
North Korea, Iraq, Afghanistan, war in the Middle East, a possible showdown with Iran, has exhausted the U.S. 

TV viewers, bombs and terror going global, and Stars and Stripes covered caskets arriving at military airports from Kabul or Bagdad. Yes, until four Special Forces soldiers were killed in an ambush in Niger in October of last year. Attention switched to Africa, instantly, and soon forgotten. Niger what? Niger where?


U.S. commandos in Africa, on secret missions? 1,200 elite soldiers of the 7,300 stationed worldwide? Where was the Sahel located, Mali, Mogadishu, Chad, Somalia? The shadow of other wars? Conflicts with China, which opened, in august of last year, its first overseas base close to America’s only major hub in Africa, Camp Lemonier, in Djibouti. (Waldhauser: “There are some very significant operational security concerns”) Conflicts with the Russians, of whom the Africa Commander stated: “They are trying to influence action. We watch what they do with great concern.” 

Officially, the U.S. Africa Command controls at any given day up to 7,200 uniformed personnel, Department of Defense civilians and contractors. Camp Lemonier counts about 2,000 troops and civilians, connected to five combatant commands: U.S. Africa Command, U.S. Central Command, U.S. European Command, U.S. Special Operations Command and the U.S. Transportation Command, all involved in security assistance, operations, and logistics. No secret that U.S. drones and fighter jets are reaching Yemen, Syria and Iraq from this hub, which is used for counter piracy activities in the Gulf of Guinea as well. If in need of a forward base, the U.S. can use a British base on an island off the coast of West Africa, Ascension Island. Chabelley Airfield, in a rather remote part of Djibouti, has been turned into a regional hub, from which unmanned aircraft can reach targets in the Middle East. Chabelley controlled drones which killed 69 enemy fighters, including five “high valued” individuals of Islamic state in Iraq and Syria. 

U.S. strategists admit that Tunisia allowed them to use one of their airports for drone attacks, they will not deny that Entebbe, Uganda, was, or is, a hub for surveillance aircraft, and, in 2014 and 2015, an airport in Libreville, Gabon, was the key base for “Operation Echo Casemate”, a joint U.S.-French-African military response to unrest in the Central African Republic. 


A drone base of the US has been spotted in Garoua, Cameroon, Camp Simba, Manda Bay, and Kenya. The U.S. Africa Command will not confirm any figures, but it seems certain that Washington, which entertains privileged military relationships with 28 of 53 African nations, has, in crisis, access to about 50 locations all over Africa. “As an imperial power, there has never been anything like the United States when it comes to garrison this planet,” assumed Nick Turse, an investigative journalist and author of the book Next Time They’ll Come to Count the Dead: War And Survival in South Sudan.    “By comparison the Roman and imperial Chinese were pikers, the Soviet Union - in its prime - was the poorest of the runners up. Even the British, at the moment when the sun theoretically never set on their empire, didn’t compare.”

The U.S. is controlling, worldwide, an estimated 800 military bases, but not often are the locations published in the media nor are the names revealed; who knows that the 5th fleet is based in the tiny sheikdom of Bahrain? Does the world know that Washington controls a huge air base in Qatar, the enemies of Trump’s beloved Saudis? Certainly, at times the U.S. Africa Command is calling the Air Force into action, for example for an attack on the Razo training Camp of the al-Shabab terrorist group in Somalia. 

Elements of the U.S. trained Tunisian Special Forces Airborne Battalion successfully engaged a group of terrorists in the Kasserine Mountains, killing a senior ISIS attack planner. The U.S. has supplied Tunisia with mobile ground surveillance radar systems and ISP aircraft to better monitor its border with Libya. Fixed radar and camera coverage of the Libyan-Tunisian border (financed by U.S.) should be operational in November 2018. The African led, France assisted, U.S. supported Sahel Organization (Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, and Niger) has established a joint force to combat violent extremists in the region-the US African Command is contributing two operational planners to the G5 Sahel Force. The Americans support the Lake Chad partners (Cameroon, Chad, Niger, and Nigeria) to counter Boko Haram and ISIS by providing advisers, intelligence, training and equipment instead of engaging in direct military operations. Since the October ambush against the Special Forces troops in Niger, the Pentagon has decided to cut back 25 percent of the Africa based commandos over the next 18 months, and by 50 percent over three years. 


Some of the Africa veterans could be reassigned to Baltic countries as Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania and other locations in Eastern Europe to help local commando forces to identify and confront possible threats from Moscow. For the moment, Special commando units in Africa have gradually reduced the number of missions on which American advisers accompany African troops on risky assignments. Dozens of troops from the 101st Airborne Division, one of the former units of colonel Rivas, are now deployed in Somalia to train local forces for their fights against al Shabab. The writer Nick Turse does not believe that the U.S. is reducing its military engagement on Africa’s continent, just in a phase during which China and Russia are marching onto African soil. 

“The U.S. is not the only prospective partner in Africa,” General Thomas Waldhauser reminded Congress in Washington.                                                                                                                          
“We must, however, be aware of interests that run counter to our own, as a larger number of external actors take a great interest in Africa. Though some of their actions contribute to Africa’s infrastructure and defense, some of these actors are impeding the continent’s long-term stability, economic growth and financial independence. Moreover, external actors may diminish U.S. influence by undermining our development and diplomatic efforts in Africa, and we share this message with our African partners during all levels of engagement.”
Nick Turse predicts: 

“With the Trump administration escalating its wars in Africa and the Middle East, and the potential for more crisis-from catastrophic famines to spreading wars-on the horizon there’s every reason to believe the U.S. military footprint on the continent will continue to evolve, expand, and enlarge in the years ahead, outpost to outpost, base to base.”


Only one African nation was singled out for its military progress by the Commanding General of the U.S. Africa Command in his report to Congress—Morocco, which was admitted to the African Union in January 2017, more than three decades after it withdrew from the AU. 

“As the country with the largest Foreign Military Sales program within our Area of Responsibility, Morocco has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to operate and maintain advanced U.S. equipment and seeks to increase interoperability with U.S. and NATO Forces. Morocco’s role as a net exporter of security makes it a key partner in the region.” 

The judgement of his superior did not surprise Colonel Raul Rivas, on his first ever visit to Morocco. He reminded the audience at the “African Peace and Security Annual Conference” in Rabat of the great history between Morocco and the United States-the first nation to recognize the rebellious settlers in the British Colony, which named itself the United States of America in 1776, was Morocco, without hesitation and ready to share our destinies forever.

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