Wednesday, November 18, 2015

the sino-american cold war in africa


democracynow |  Nick, we haven’t even gotten to the U.S.-Chinese competition over control in Africa, and so I’d like to ask you to stay after the show. We’ll do a post-show and post it online at democracynow.org, as you cover a little-covered story in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Nick Turse, you have a chapter in your book, Tomorrow’s Battlefield: U.S. Proxy Wars and Secret Ops in Africa, that is—its header, "An East-West Showdown: China, America, and a New Cold War in Africa." Explain.

NICK TURSE: Well, if you travel anywhere on the African continent, you’ll see that the Chinese have moved in, in a very big way, over the last decade. They’ve pursued a campaign of economic engagement across the continent, and very, very public projects. Everywhere you go, they’re building an airport, they’re building roads, they’re putting up government facilities—tangible projects that Africans can see. This is the strategy they’ve pursued to gain influence in Africa. The U.S. has gone a different route. They’ve pursued an antiterror whack-a-mole strategy, where they send small teams around the continent, they send drones. They try to tamp down terror groups and seem to only spread them around. They’ve also pumped in tremendous amounts of money, but this is to bolster African militaries with rather dubious human rights records.

AMY GOODMAN: Give us examples.

NICK TURSE: Well, you know, you can see this in Kenya. They’ve put a lot of money into training Kenyan force to act as a proxy in Somalia. But this—one, they haven’t been very successful in tamping down violence. Actually, it’s spread the violence into Kenya now. And the Kenyans have been seen by many groups as being exceptionally corrupt, conducting smuggling around the region, and also—you know, they’ve also committed human rights abuses. So—and the same thing has been seen elsewhere in Africa. Chad, we’ve pumped a lot of money into using the Chadians as proxy forces. But if you look at how Chad’s troops have operated abroad—you know, we backed Chad to go into Central African Republic, and they committed a massacre there, machine-gunned a marketplace filled with civilians.

AMY GOODMAN: And why did the U.S. back them?

NICK TURSE: Well, I think that the U.S. doesn’t want to put large numbers of its own forces on the ground, because of what’s happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. They want to fight wars on the cheap. They want to limit American casualties. But the proxies to choose from in Africa are troubling.

AMY GOODMAN: You share some startling figures. Since 2007, the U.S. has operated AFRICOM, the United States Africa Command. U.S. generals have maintained AFRICOM leaves only a "small footprint" on the continent, with just an official base in Djibouti. But you say the U.S. military is now involved in more than 90 percent of Africa’s 54 nations. The U.S. presence includes, you say, "construction, military exercises, advisory assignments, security cooperation, or training missions." But AFRICOM, you write, carried out 674 missions across the African continent last year—an average of nearly two a day, a 300 percent jump from previous years. Can you explain why these operations have expanded exponentially under President Obama?

NICK TURSE: Well, you know, I think Africa has been seen as a place of ungoverned spaces, a place that’s prone to terror. It’s ironic because when a senior Pentagon official was asked after 9/11 about the presence of transnational terror groups on the continent, he wasn’t able to come up with any. The best he could come up with was that militants in Somalia had saluted Osama bin Laden. That was the extent of it. They hadn’t actually attacked anywhere outside of Somalia. They had local grievances, and they were contained. But the U.S. got into its head that Africa was a place that could be a heartland for terrorism, so it pumped in a tremendous amount of money, sent in forces, conducted all these training operations, set up small bases around the continent—all of it to shore up the continent against terror. Instead, you look anywhere on the continent today, and you see a proliferation of terror groups—ISIS, Boko Haram, al-Shabab, al-Mourabitoun, Ansaru, over and over. The Pentagon won’t name all the groups that it sees as threats, but it’s somewhere around 50 that it claims are groups on the continent that are opposed to U.S. interests. They’ve just proliferated in all—in these years.