AFRICOM's has consistently minimized the scope of its operations and the number of facilities it maintains or shares with host nations, asserting that only "a small presence of personnel who conduct short-duration engagements" are operating from "several locations" on the continent at any given time. To the media and the American people, officials insist the US military is engaged in small-scale, innocuous operations in Afrika. But clearly the seemingly unending string of projects, operations, and engagements, each downplayed by AFRICOM is an indication of the growing, if not central important of Afrika in the future of US foreign policy.
The map above shows the various US military outposts, construction, security cooperation, and deployments in Africa. AFRICOM recognizes 54 nations and according to an investigation by The Nation Institute, it is militarily involved in no fewer than 49 of them. In some, the US maintains "bases"; in others, it trains local partners and proxies to battle militants ranging from Somalia's al-Shabaab and Nigeria's Boko Haram to members of Al Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb; and in other areas it is building facilities for its allies or infrastructure for locals. Many Afrikan nations, for example Nigeria and Uganda, are home to multiple US military projects. And with the growing economy of China, its expansion into Afrika, and the US's perception of the People's Reblic as a threat, the America's already vast initiatives in Afrika will be expanding into the foreseeable future.
In Uganda, AFRICOM is identified one of the CSL sites as Entebbe, Uganda, a location from which US contractors have flown secret surveillance missions using innocuous-looking, white Pilatus PC-12 turboprop airplanes, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. Moreover, the 2012 US Army Africa planned to build six new gates to the Entebbe compound, 11 new "containerized housing units," new guard stations, new perimeter and security fencing, enhanced security lighting and new concrete access ramps, among other improvements. These plans are apparently complete by now through AFRICOM has refused to update the public.
Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso
In addition to the build up of military equipment, and possible transforming of the Ugandan "temporary facilities: into a full-scale base, is the US outpost in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. An airbase there serves as the home of a Joint Special Operations Air Detachment, as well as the Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing Airlift Support initiative. According to military documents, that "initiative" supports "high-risk activities" carried out by elite forces from Joint Special Operations Task Force-Trans Sahara. The Burkina Faso facility provides emergency casualty evacuation support to small team engagements with partner nations throughout the Sahel. Whatever is transpiring in Bukina Faso, it is happening without haste: between March and December 2012, for example, the initiative flew 233 sorties. In the first three months of this year, it carried out 193. Moreover, in July 2013, Berry Aviation, a Texas-based longtime Pentagon contractor, was awarded a nearly $50 million contract to provide aircraft and personnel for "Trans-Sahara Short Take-Off and Landing services." Under the terms of the deal, Berry will "perform casualty evacuation, personnel airlift, cargo airlift, as well as personnel and cargo aerial delivery services throughout the Trans-Sahara of Africa.
Nzara, South Sudan
In addition to Ouagadougou, last year, according to the unit's commander, Air Force lieutenant Alexander Graboski, the 435th Military Construction Flight (MCF)—a rapid-response mobile construction team--revitalized an airfield in South Sudan for Special Operations Command Africa (SOCAFRICA). Prior to that, the team also "installed a runway lighting system to enable 24-hour operations" at the outpost. Graboski states that the Air Force's 435th MCF "has been called upon many times by Special Operations Command Africa to send small teams to perform work in austere locations." Nzara in South Sudan is one of a string of shadowy forward operating posts on the continent where US Special Operations Forces have been stationed in recent years. Other sites include Obo and Djema in the Central Africa Republic and Dungu in the Democratic Republic of Congo. According to Lieutenant Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere, the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group, "advisory assistance at forward outposts was directly responsible for the establishment of combined operations fusion centers where military commanders, local security officials, and a host of international and non-governmental organizations could share information about regional insurgent activity and coordinate military activities with civil authorities."
Drone bases are also expanding. In February, the US announced the establishment of a new drone facility in Niger. Later in the spring, AFRICOM confirmed that US air operations conducted from Base Aerienne 101 at Diori Hamani International Airport in Niamey, Niger's capital, were providing "support for intelligence collection with French forces conducting operations in Mali and with other partners in the region." More recently, the New York Times noted that what began as the deployment of one Predator drone to Niger had expanded to encompass daily flights by one of two larger, more advanced Reaper remotely piloted aircraft, supported by 120 Air Force personnel. Additionally, the US has flown drones out of the Seychelles Islands and Ethiopia's Arba Minch Airport.
In addition to the army, the US navy has also been expanding its outposts in Africa. It maintains a forward operating location--manned mostly by Seabees, Civil Affairs personnel, and force-protection troops—known as Camp Gilbert in Dire Dawa, Ethiopia. As early as 2004, US troops have been stationed at a Kenyan naval base known as Camp Simba at Manda Bay. AFRICOM says that operations there as relatively minor, typified by "short-term training and engagement activities." The 60 or so "core" troops stationed there are also primarily Civil Affairs, Seabees, and security personnel who take part in "military-to-military engagements with Kenyan forces and humanitarian initiatives."
An AFRICOM briefing earlier this year suggested, however, that the base is destined to be more than a backwater post. It called attention to improvements in water and power infrastructure and an extension of the runway at the airfield, as well as greater "surge capacity" for bringing in forces in the future. A second briefing, prepared by the Navy and obtained by TomDispatch, details nine key infrastructure upgrades that are on the drawing board, underway, or completed. A briefing prepared earlier this year by the Naval Facilities Engineering Command lists a plethora of projects currently underway or poised to begin, including an aircraft maintenance hangar, a telecommunications facility, a fire station, additional security fencing, an ammunition supply facility, interior paved roads, a general purpose warehouse, maintenance shelters for aircraft, an aircraft logistics apron, taxiway enhancements, expeditionary lodging, a combat aircraft loading apron, and a taxiway extension on the east side of the airfield.
Navy documents detail the price tag of this year's proposed projects, including $7.5 million to be spent on containerized living units and workspaces, $22 million for cold storage and the expansion of dining facilities, $27 million for a fitness center, $43 million for a joint headquarters facility, and a whopping $220 million for a Special Operations Compound, also referred to as "Task Force Compound."
The US military also makes use of six buildings located on Kenyan military bases at the airport and seaport of Mombasa. In addition, he verified that it has used Léopold Sédar Senghor International Airport in Senegal for refueling stops as well as the "transportation of teams participating in security cooperation activities" such as training missions. He confirmed a similar deal for the use of Addis Ababa Bole International Airport in Ethiopia. It also has similar agreements for the use of Nsimalen Airport and Douala International Airport in Cameroon, Amílcar Cabral International Airport and Praia International Airport in Cape Verde, N'Djamena International Airport in Chad, Cairo International Airport in Egypt, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and Moi International Airport in Kenya, Kotoka International Airport in Ghana, Marrakech-Menara Airport in Morocco, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Nigeria, Seychelles International Airport in the Seychelles, Sir Seretse Khama International Airport in Botswana, Bamako-Senou International Airport in Mali, and Tunis-Carthage International Airport in Tunisia. In total, the US military now has 29 agreements to use international airports in Afrika as refueling centers.
The US maintains 10 marine gas and oil bunker locations in eight African nations, according to the Defense Logistics Agency. AFRICOM's Benjamin Benson refuses to name the countries, but recent military contracting documents list key fuel bunker locations in Douala, Cameroon; Mindelo, Cape Verde; Abidjan, Cote D'Ivoire; Port Gentil, Gabon; Sekondi, Ghana; Mombasa, Kenya; Port Luis, Mauritius; Walvis Bay, Namibia; Lagos, Nigeria; Port Victoria, Seychelles; Durban, South Africa; and Dar Es Salaam, Tanzania.
Key logistics support hubs for AFRICOM are located in Rota, Spain; Aruba in the Lesser Antilles; and Souda Bay, Greece, as well as at Ramstein. The command also maintains a forward operating site on Britain's Ascension Island, located about 1,000 miles off the coast of Africa in the South Atlantic, but refused requests for further information about its role in operations. Another important logistics facility is located in Sigonella on the island of Sicily. Italy, it turns out, is an especially crucial component of US operations in Africa. Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa, which provides teams of Marines and sailors for "small-footprint theater security cooperation engagements" across the continent, is based at Naval Air Station Sigonella. It has, according to AFRICOM's Benjamin Benson, recently deployed personnel to Botswana, Liberia, Djibouti, Burundi, Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Tunisia, and Senegal.
Expanding Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti
While that sum is sizeable, it's surpassed by spending on the lone official US base on the African continent, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. That former French Foreign Legion post has been on a decade-long growth spurt.
In 2002, the US dispatched personnel to Africa as part of Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA). The next year, CJTF-HOA took up residence at Camp Lemonnier, where it resides to this day. In 2005, the US struck a five-year land-use agreement with the Djiboutian government and exercised the first of two five-year renewal options in late 2010. In 2006, the US signed a separate agreement to expand the camp's boundaries to 500 acres.
According to AFRICOM's Benson, between 2009 and 2012, $390 million was spent on construction at Camp Lemonnier. In recent years, the outpost was transformed by the addition of an electric power plant, enhanced water storage and treatment facilities, a dining hall, more facilities for Special Operations Command, and the expansion of aircraft taxiways and parking aprons.
There are also plans for Construction of the Special Operations or "Task Force" Compound at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti. According to a 2012 briefing by Lieutenant Colonel David Knellinger, the Special Operations Compound will eventually include at least 18 new facilities, including a two-story joint operations center, a two-story tactical operations center, two five-story barracks, a large motor pool facility, a supply warehouse, and an aircraft hangar with an adjacent air operations center. A document produced earlier this year by Lieutenant Troy Gilbert, an infrastructure planner with AFRICOM's engineer division, lists almost $400 million in "emergency" military construction at Camp Lemonnier, including work on the special operations compound and more than $150 million for a new combat aircraft loading area. Navy documents, for their part, estimate that construction at Camp Lemonnier will continue at $70 million to $100 million annually, with future projects to include a $20 million wastewater treatment plant, a $40 million medical and dental center, and more than $150 million in troop housing.
Rules of Engagement
In addition, the US military has been supporting construction all over Africa for its allies. A report by Hugh Denny of the Army Corps of Engineers issued earlier this year references 79 such projects in 33 countries between 2011 and 2013, including Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Chad, Cote D'Ivoire, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Malawi, Mali, Mauritania, Mauritius, Mozambique, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Swaziland, Tanzania, Tunisia, The Gambia, Togo, Uganda, and Zambia. The reported price tag: $48 million.
Senegal has, for example, received a $1.2 million "peacekeeping operations training center" under the auspices of the US Africa Contingency Operations Training and Assistance (ACOTA) program. ACOTA has also supported training center projects in Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Malawi, Nigeria, Niger, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Tanzania, Togo, and Uganda.
The US is planning to finance the construction of barracks and other facilities for Ghana's armed forces. AFRICOM's Benson also confirmed to TomDispatch that the Army Corps of Engineers has plans to "equip and refurbish five military border security posts in Djibouti along the Somalia/Somaliland border." In Kenya, US Special Operations Forces have "played a crucial role in infrastructure investments for the Kenyan Special Operations Regiment and especially in the establishment of the Kenyan Ranger school," according to Lieutenant Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere of the 3rd Battalion, 10th Special Forces Group.
AFRICOM's "humanitarian assistance" program is also expansive. A 2013 Navy briefing lists $7.1 million in humanitarian construction projects—like schools, orphanages, and medical facilities—in 19 countries from Comoros and Guinea-Bissau to Rwanda. Hugh Denny's report also lists nine Army Corps of Engineers "security assistance" efforts, valued at more than $12 million, carried out during 2012 and 2013, as well as 15 additional "security cooperation" projects worth more than $22 million in countries across Africa.
A Deluge of Deployments
In addition to creating or maintaining bases and engaging in military construction across the continent, the US is involved in near constant training and advisory missions. According to AFRICOM's Colonel Tom Davis, the command is slated to carry out 14 major bilateral and multilateral exercises by the end of this year. These include Saharan Express 2013, which brought together forces from Cape Verde, Cote d'Ivoire, The Gambia, Liberia, Mauritania, Morocco, Senegal, and Sierra Leone, among other nations, for maritime security training; Obangame Express 2013, a counter-piracy exercise involving the armed forces of many nations, including Benin, Cameroon, Cote d'Ivoire, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Nigeria, Republic of Congo, São Tomé and Príncipe, and Togo; and Africa Endeavor 2013, in which the militaries of Djibouti, Burundi, Cote d'Ivoire, Zambia, and 34 other African nations took part.
And that's just the tip of the iceberg. As Davis told TomDispatch, "We also conduct some type of military training or military-to-military engagement or activity with nearly every country on the African continent." A cursory look at just some of US missions this spring drives home the true extent of the growing US engagement in Africa.
In January, for instance, the US Air Force began transporting French troops to Mali to counter Islamist forces there. At a facility in Nairobi, Kenya, AFRICOM provided military intelligence training to junior officers from Kenya, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Tanzania, and South Sudan. In January and February, Special Operations Forces personnel conducted a joint exercise code-named Silent Warrior with Cameroonian soldiers. February saw South African troops travel all the way to Chiang Mai, Thailand, to take part in Cobra Gold 2013, a multinational training exercise cosponsored by the US military.
In March, Navy personnel worked with members of Cape Verde's armed forces, while Kentucky National Guard troops spent a week advising soldiers from the Comoros Islands. That same month, members of Special-Purpose Marine Air-Ground Task Force Africa deployed to the Singo Peace Support Training Center in Uganda to work with Ugandan soldiers prior to their assignment to the African Union Mission in Somalia. Over the course of the spring, members of the task force would also mentor local troops in Burundi, Cameroon, Ghana, Burkina Faso, the Seychelles, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Liberia.
In April, members of the task force also began training Senegalese commandos at Bel-Air military base in Dakar, while Navy personnel deployed to Mozambique to school civilians in demining techniques. Meanwhile, Marines traveled to Morocco to conduct a training exercise code-named African Lion 13 with that country's military. In May, Army troops were sent to Lomé, Togo, to work with members of the Togolese Defense Force, as well as to Senga Bay, Malawi, to instruct soldiers there.
That same month, Navy personnel conducted a joint exercise in the Mediterranean Sea with their Egyptian counterparts. In June, personnel from the Kentucky National Guard deployed to Djibouti to advise members of that country's military on border security methods, while Seabees teamed up with the Tanzanian People's Defense Force to build maritime security infrastructure. That same month, the Air Force airlifted Liberian troops to Bamako, Mali, to conduct a six-month peacekeeping operation.
Small footprint Lie
Counting countries in which it has bases or outposts or has done construction, and those with which it has conducted military exercises, advisory assignments, security cooperation, or training missions, the US military, according to TomDispatch's analysis, is involved with more than 90% of Africa's 54 nations. While AFRICOM commander David Rodriguez maintains that the US has only a "small footprint" on the continent, following those small footprints across the continent can be a breathtaking task.
It's not hard to imagine why the US military wants to maintain that "small footprint" fiction. On occasion, military commanders couldn't have been clearer on the subject. "A direct and overt presence of US forces on the African continent can cause consternation… with our own partners who take great pride in their post-colonial abilities to independently secure themselves," wrote Lieutenant Colonel Guillaume Beaurpere earlier this year in the military trade publication Special Warfare. Special Operations Forces, he added, "must train to operate discreetly within these constraints and the cultural norms of the host nation."
On a visit to the Pentagon earlier this summer, AFRICOM's Rodriguez echoed the same point in candid comments to Voice of America: "The history of the African nations, the colonialism, all those things are what point to the reasons why we should… just use a small footprint."
And yet, however useful that imagery may be to the Pentagon, the US military no longer has a small footprint in Africa. Even the repeated claims that US troops conduct only short-term. intermittent missions there has been officially contradicted. This July, at a change of command ceremony for Naval Special Warfare Unit 10, a spokesman noted the creation and implementation of "a five-year engagement strategy that encompassed the transition from episodic training events to regionally-focused and persistent engagements in five Special Operations Command Africa priority countries."