Wednesday, November 18, 2015

What IS the U.S. interest in Africa?


democracynow |  AMY GOODMAN: What is the U.S. interest in Africa?

NICK TURSE: Well, it’s difficult to say for sure. I think that the U.S. has viewed Africa as a place of weak governance, you know, sort of a zone that’s prone to terrorism, and that there can be a spread of terror groups on the continent if the U.S. doesn’t intervene. So, you know, there’s generally only one tool in the U.S. toolkit, and that’s a hammer. And unfortunately, then, everywhere they see nails.

AMY GOODMAN: What were you most surprised by in "The Drone Papers" that you got a hold of, a kind of—what’s been described as perhaps a second Edward Snowden, this project of The Intercept that you wrote about, particularly when it came to Africa?

NICK TURSE: Well, I think it’s really just how far the proliferation of drone bases has spread on the continent. You know, I’ve been looking at this for years, but "The Drone Papers" drove home to me just how integral drones have become to the U.S. way of warfare on the continent. You know, I think this feeds into President Obama’s strategy, trying to get away from large-footprint interventions, you know, the disasters that we’ve seen in Iraq and Afghanistan. He’s leaned heavily now on special operations forces and on drones. And so, I think that’s probably the most surprising aspect.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And in terms of the reports that we get here, you basically—there’s either news about Boko Haram or al-Shabab or the disintegration, continuing disintegration, of Libya. To what extent have these special operations focused on these areas, and to what extent have they had any success?

NICK TURSE: Well, I think that Libya is actually a—it’s a great example of the best intentions gone awry by the U.S. The U.S. joined a coalition war to oust dictator Muammar Gaddafi. And I think that it was seen as a great success. Gaddafi fell, and it seemed like U.S. policies had played out just as they were drawn up in Washington. Instead, though, we saw that Libya has descended into chaos, and it’s been a nightmare for the Libyan people ever since—a complete catastrophe.

And it then had a tendency to spread across the continent. Gaddafi had Tuaregs from Mali who worked for him. They were elite troops. As his regime was falling, the Tuaregs raided his weapons stores, and they moved into Mali, into their traditional homeland, to carve out their own nation there. When they did that, the U.S.-backed military in Mali, that we had been training for years, began to disintegrate. That’s when the U.S.-trained officer decided that he could do a better job, overthrew the democratically elected government. But he proved no better at fighting the Tuaregs than the government he overthrew. As a result, Islamist rebels came in and pushed out his forces and the Tuaregs, and were making great gains in the country, looked poised to take it over.

The U.S. decided to intervene again, another military intervention. We backed the French and an African force to go in and stop the Islamists. We were able to, with these proxies—which is the preferred method of warfare on the African continent—arrest the Islamists’ advance, but now Mali has descended into a low-level insurgency. And it’s been like this for several years now. The weapons that the Tuaregs originally had were taken by the Islamists and have now spread across the continent. You can find those weapons in the hands of Boko Haram now, even as far away as Sinai in Egypt. So, now, the U.S. has seen this as a way to stop the spread of militancy, but I think when you look, you see it just has spread it.