July 29, 2012

U.S. Building African Proxy Armies

New rays of light are being increasingly cast on America's operations in Africa, specifically across the continent's upper half, as U.S. foreign policy chases al-Qaeda into the shadows. "Secret" bases, overflights, security contractors and renditions have gone as mainstream as possible. Less developed is the wider strategic picture that connects Washington and an assortment of receptive African capitals, as shadows can only do so much fighting. The Trench's previous analysis observed that the U.S. is hoping to use northern Mali's crisis to build combat experience in the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS).

This arrangement is based on mutual needs: African capitals need Western air and logistics support, intelligence and financing for all of it, generating a natural control over the continent's largest proxy armies.

Today The Los Angeles Times recapped most of this blueprint's designs in Somalia. Although the Times reports that the Obama administration "has not disclosed much in public about its role... because African Union officials do not want their force seen as a Washington puppet," almost none of the presented information is fresh. In addition to financially injecting Somalia's government, the U.S. and European powers (such as France and Italy) have been training AMISOM forces to defeat al-Shabaab since the Transitional Federal Government (TFG) formed in 2009 under UN guidance. Wafula Wamunyinyi, deputy head of the African Union mission, described the assistance of "quite enormous," and Washington is deeply involved in every level of operations.

In terms of payment, U.S. funds are covering the costs of lethal aid as EU pays out checks to AU soldiers in the field, a historically debilitating problem. Western trainers and/or contractors also assist/lead a 13-week basic training course and oversee specialized programs for engineers, intelligence personnel and medics. Recruits receive combat gear (uniforms, weapons, night vision devices, communications, medical aid and other supplies) and sometimes deploy to the field in Western-purchased armored personnel carriers. A large package that include RQ-11 Raven drones was delivered to Uganda in 2011, but this supply chain likely extends to multiple partners.

While U.S. officials claim that no military personnel are deployed to Somalia with African troops, independent evidence indicates the opposite. Shadow wars also demand skepticism rather than the inclination to believe government accounts. Michael Bittrick, a State Department official who oversees U.S. policy in the area, says that private firms hire "retired foreign military personnel" to advise in the field, except U.S. Special Forces and CIA operatives are unilaterally embedded around Somalia's frontlines (French agents allegedly operate as liaisons by directly coordinating with AU units). According to the investigative reporting of The Nation's Jeremy Scahill, the CIA maintains a detention facility in the remnants of Siad Barre's torturous prison in Mogadishu, dubbed Godka or "The Hole." Here the CIA keeps Somali intelligence personnel on a private payroll due to government corruption, and arranges interrogations of national and foreign suspects.

"They support us in a big way financially,” a senior Somali intelligence official told Scahill in 2011. “They are the largest [funder] by far.”

Special Forces and CIA personnel also operate aerial missions (including drones) out of Mogadishu's Aden Adde International airport.

The only new information offered by The Los Angeles Times is an itinerary of the Sierre Leone battalion in transport to Kenya, where it will be picked up by vehicles paid for by Washington and imported from ally South Africa. The soldiers will then be driven into southern Somalia and link with three Kenyan battalions "who have been bogged down" for months. Launched in late October 2011, Operation Linda Nchi ran straight into Somalia's second rainy season and has yet to reach its stated objective: clear al-Shabaab's port stronghold, Kismayo, before the TFG dissolves in August. The AU must eventually take the port or risk jeopardizing its ongoing national offensive.

The Los Angeles Times simply paints a picture of near-absolute control over AMISOM and Somalia's fledgling defense forces.

"Officially, the troops are under the auspices of the African Union. But in truth, according to interviews by U.S. and African officials and senior military officers and budget documents, the 15,000-strong force pulled from five African countries is largely a creation of the State Department and Pentagon, trained and supplied by the U.S. government and guided by dozens of retired foreign military personnel hired through private contractors.”

The positives of this strategy are evident. Combining all of the lessons learned from past errors, AMISOM's present force is cheaper and more relatable than an American or Ethiopian intervention. Now U.S. forces can operate freely out of Mogadishu with 10,000 AU soldiers patrolling the city and its surroundings, a vivid contrast from 1993's isolated mission. General Carter Ham, the chief of AFRICOM, implies that Somalia's model can be replicated in response to other African crises: "We think that's an ideal role for the United States — not a large U.S. military presence… but rather applying the resources that we do have to help those countries who are willing to contribute to this effort.”

Costs, on the other and, are already being felt outside of Somalia's battle zone. In return for their "generous" services, dictatorships in Uganda and Ethiopia maintain healthy relationships with Washington just as U.S. counterterrorism operations work in the Algerian government's favor. Those governments that pair with the U.S. and EU are encouraged to "reform" and "promote democracy," but manipulation of this arrangement is inevitable. Uganda's minor protests, for example, were crushed with minimal objection from the Obama administration. Higher still, the manipulation of political blocs could affect entire regions of people.

How solid U.S. military influence grows in Africa, along with any potential backlashes and human rights controversies, remains to be seen.

No comments:

Post a Comment