BY ABAYOMI AZIKIWE
Military operations by the United States in Libya and Somalia on October 5 were not isolated events nor were they solely prompted by the siege at Westgate shopping Mall in Nairobi, Kenya which the Somalian-based Al-Shabaab took responsibility. Since December 2012, the White House has declared that it will intensify its presence in Africa under the guise of waging its “war on terrorism.”
In recent weeks thousands of members of the First Infantry Division based in Fort Riley, Kansas have been targeting supposed bases of groups designated by the Pentagon and the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) as enemies of the state. At least another one hundred of these military operations are scheduled to take place within the next year.
U.S. troops are being transferred as well from Spain to bases in Italy where they will be utilized for the military strikes in Africa. Some 200 of these troops are on stand-by for a possible intervention in Libya where since the Pentagon-NATO war of regime-change two years ago, the security situation has consistently deteriorated. (military.com, October 16)
These developments have been labeled the Special Purpose Marine Air-Ground Forces-Crisis Response. It is part of the overall framework established by the U.S. Africa Command (AFRICOM) which was formed in 2008 under the previous Bush administration but continued and strengthened by Obama.
A military affairs website recently reported that “According to U.S. security specialist David Vine, the Pentagon has spent around $2 billion — and that’s just construction costs – ‘shifting its European center of gravity south from Germany’ and transforming Italy ‘into a launching pad for future wars in Africa, the Middle East and beyond.’ The Marines are being moved to the Naval Air Station at Sigonella on Sicily, which will eventually have a force of 1,000 Marines with its main focus on Libya, 100 miles across the Mediterranean.” (military.com, October 16)
This same news source continued noting “Vines estimates there are now 13,000 U.S. troops in Italy at Sigonella and some 50 other facilities like Vicenza, a former Italian air force base near Venice, with the 173rd Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), a rapid response force.” The U.S. has one military base on the continent that is acknowledged, Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti which houses 4,000 troops and other personnel, but various facilities exist in several countries throughout the continent and its islands.
AFRICOM’s official headquarters still remains in Stuttgart, Germany. Nonetheless, the degree of Pentagon and CIA operations in Africa reveals a serious concern over their need to continue the domination of the continent’s natural resources, particularly oil and natural gas, but also mineral resources which exist in abundance in all areas of Africa.
In addition to the deployment of troops in Italy and various bases in Africa, the new infusion of cash by the Pentagon is taking place with the specific intent to bolster its operations on the continent. The Tribune Washington Bureau (MCT) reported that these new expenditures will go toward air facilities, flight services, telecommunications and electrical upgrades.
French President Francois Hollande has announced during a recent state visit to the Republic of South Africa that his government will increase its military presence in the mineral-rich Central African Republic (CAR). On March 24 of this year the Seleka rebel movement took control of the capital of Bangui where they have governed amid increasing turmoil and instability inside the country.
The Seleka-dominated government in Bangui has created the conditions for the security situation in the CAR to further deteriorate. With Seleka under interim-leader Michel Djotodia being a majority Muslim coalition of rebel groups, the French are utilizing this factor as a rationale to justify intervention claiming that the situation will further enable so-called Islamic “terrorists” to operate inside the country and the region.
France is the former colonial power in CAR and Paris has repeatedly intervened in its internal affairs. In early October, France spearheaded the passage of United Nations Security Council Resolution 2121 authorizing an African Union (AU) peacekeeping force that will be sent back into the CAR.
South Africa had sent troops into the CAR in conjunction with the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) known as the Mission for the Consolidation of Peace in Central African Republic (MICOPAX) to ostensibly safeguard the government of Francois Bozize. When the Seleka rebels entered the capital there was a firefight with members of the South African National Defense Forces (SANDF), where 13 of Pretoria’s troops were killed.
South Africa soon withdrew its forces from the CAR but pledged to re-enter under a broader regional force which would combine ECCAS-MICOPAX forces with other troops supplied by the African Union. The AU decided in July to create the new UN-approved force known as the International Support Mission in Central African Republic (MISCA).
French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius was recently in Bangui in order to announce the intervention. Later President Francois Hollande visited South Africa where he held high-level discussions with President Jacob Zuma.
Fabius said the regional force “must have the capacity to act and France is going to help.” The foreign minister admitted that France currently has 410 troops in the Central African Republic, and these forces are “charged primarily with protecting the airport and patrolling in Bangui.” Nonetheless, Fabius said with the new U.N. resolutions “these different forces will be able to intervene more quickly and effectively.”(VOA, October 14)
However, it will remain to be seen how these arrangements can work considering the deep suspicions held by South Africa and other states in the sub-continent surrounding the involvement of France on the continent. Criticisms were leveled at the role of France in Mali when the former AU Commissioner, Jean Ping of Gabon, another French post-colonial state, was incapable of mobilizing an Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) peacekeeping force that had plans to intervene in Mali after the seizure of several northern cities by a number of Tuareg separatists and Islamic organizations.
France invaded Mali in January and is still occupying areas in the north of the country with thousands of troops. A recent national election has attempted to attach a sense of legitimacy to the French operations giving Paris the incentive to expand its intervention in former colonial territories in Africa.
France says that even after the beginning of 2014, it will keep at least 1,000 of its troops in Mali. The U.S. had been involved in Mali prior to the military coup of March 2012 when the civilian government of President Amadou Toumani Toure was overthrown by a Pentagon-trained Capt. Amadou Sanogo.
The U.S. had provided training and other material support to the Malian military but these efforts in effect worsened the security situation in the North. U.S. Air Force planes were instrumental in transporting French troops and military equipment into Mali during the invasion in January.
Washington has also deployed an estimated 100 troops into neighboring uranium-rich Niger to establish a drone station and assist with securing the Areva mining interests controlled by France. Niger, a former French colony too, has been the scene of guerrilla operations by Islamic forces opposed to the western interventions inside the country.
Although the U.S. and France are claiming that they are involved in Africa to fight “terrorism,” both states are imperialist and have direct interests in the CAR, Mali as well as other countries on the continent. The CAR has gold, diamonds along with a host of strategic minerals which are of interests to the western industrialized states.
* Abayomi Azikiwe is Editor of Pan-African News Wire.