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The US Military Averages More Than a Mission a Day in Africa

The military has for years insisted that our presence in Africa is small scale, but the numbers say otherwise.

| Thu Mar. 27, 2014 5:23 PM EDT

Locations, Locations, Locations

A 2013 investigation by TomDispatch analyzing official documents and open source information revealed that the US military was involved with at least 49 of the 54 nations on the African continent during 2012 and 2013 in activities that ranged from special ops raids to the training of proxy forces. A map produced late last year by US Army Africa bolsters the findings, indicating its troops had conducted or planned to conduct "activities" in all African "countries" during the 2013 fiscal year except for Western Sahara (a disputed territory in the Maghreb region of North Africa), Guinea Bissau, Eritrea, Sudan, Somalia, São Tomé and Príncipe, Madagascar, and Zimbabwe. Egypt is considered outside of AFRICOM's area of operations, but did see US military activity in 2013, as did Somalia, which now also hosts a small team of US advisors. Other documents indicate Army troops actually deployed to São Tomé and Príncipe, a country that regularly conducts activities with the US Navy.

AFRICOM is adamant that the US military has only one base on the continent: Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. Official documents examined by TomDispatch, however, make reference to bases by other names: forward operating sites, or FOSes (long-term locations); cooperative security locations, or CSLs (through which small numbers of US troops periodically rotate); and contingency locations, or CLs (which are used only during ongoing missions).

AFRICOM has repeatedly denied requests by TomDispatch for further information on the numbers or locations of FOSes, CSLs, and CLs, but official documents produced in 2012 make reference to seven cooperative security locations, including one in Entebbe, Uganda, a location from which US contractors have flown secret surveillance missions, according to an investigation by the Washington Post. Information released earlier this year by the military also makes references to at least nine "forward operating locations," or FOLs in Africa.

We Know Not What They Do

"What We Are Doing," the title of a December 2013 military document obtained by TomDispatch, offers answers to questions that AFRICOM has long sought to avoid and provides information the command has worked to keep under wraps. So much else, however, remains in the shadows.

From 2008 to 2013, the number of missions, exercises, operations, and other activities under AFRICOM's purview has skyrocketed from 172 to 546, but little substantive information has been made public about what exactly most of these missions involved and just who US forces have trained. Since 2011, US Army Africa alone has taken part in close to 1,000 "activities" across the continent, but independent reporters have only been on hand for a tiny fraction of them, so there are limits to what we can know about them beyond military talking points and official news releases for a relative few of these missions. Only later did it become clear that the United States extensively mentored the military officer who overthrew Mali's elected government in 2012, and that the US trained a Congolese commando battalion implicated by the United Nations in mass rapes and other atrocities during that same year, to cite two examples.

Since its inception, US Africa Command has consistently downplayed its role on the continent. Meanwhile, far from the press or the public, the officers running its secret operations have privately been calling Africa "the battlefield of tomorrow, today."

After years in the dark, we now know just how "extremely active"—to use General David Rodriguez's phrase—AFRICOM has been and how rapidly the tempo of its missions has increased. It remains to be seen just what else we don't know about US Africa Command's exponentially expanding operations.

Nick Turse is the managing editor of TomDispatch.com and a fellow at the Nation Institute. A 2014 Izzy Award winner, his pieces have appeared in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Nation, at the BBC and regularly at TomDispatch. He is the author most recently of the New York Times bestseller Kill Anything That Moves: The Real American War in Vietnam (just out in paperback). To stay on top of important articles like these, sign up to receive the latest updates from TomDispatch.com here.

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