The U.S. military’s incredibly secretive African Command, or AFRICOM, has been steadily growing over the past 15 years – and with almost no media coverage.
The Pentagon keeps a lot of the details about AFRICOM secret. What we do know comes from leaked documents and fragmentary evidence, like the dozens of secret killer drone bases, the many murdered civilians, or the bring-your-mistress-to-work parties the AFRICOM commanders have on Thursdays (complete with giraffe liver-pâté hors d’oeuvres).
Here’s how the military explains AFRICOM: “U.S. Africa Command, with partners, counters transnational threats and malign actors, strengthens security forces and responds to crises in order to advance U.S. national interests and promote regional security, stability and prosperity.”
I have some questions:
One: When has the U.S. ever created security and stability anywhere in the world? Iraq? No. Libya? No. Syria? Nope. Afghanistan? Definitely not. Haiti? Vietnam? Korea? — I have to move on, or this episode will be longer than “Avatar: The Way of Water”!
Two: The U.S. is in Africa to counter transnational threats? Threats to whom? Threats to the U.S. in Africa? Then I have an idea. Get the U.S. out of Africa! And doesn’t having the U.S. military running around Africa killing people generally just create more threats to the U.S.? Do you know what pisses people off? When someone shows up in their town and kills their neighbors.
The Pentagon’s explanation continues: “The U.S. supports partners in Africa using a ‘3D’ approach – that is ‘Diplomacy, Development, and Defense.’”
Allow me to translate – “Diplomacy” means threats, “Development” means bribes, and “Defense” means blowing things and people up.
Even the organization’s name is offensive. “U.S. Africa Command”? Could you imagine how the U.S. would react if there were an “Iranian U.S. Command”? Or a “China North America Command”? They’d fill their britches, then put on new ones and fill them again!
And everything about AFRICOM is made more suspicious by the fact the Pentagon has long lied about what they’re doing in Africa. As journalist Nick Turse reported for The Intercept in 2020,
During testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee… Stephen Townsend, the commander of AFRICOM, [said] that AFRICOM maintains a ‘light and relatively low-cost footprint’ on the continent. This ‘light footprint’ consists of a constellation of more than two dozen outposts that stretch from one side of Africa to the other.”
If I were to sneeze and cover your face from one side to the other in a constellation of snot, I don’t think you’d call it a “light footprint” of mucus!
So let’s try to figure out some of the key questions about AFRICOM.
Step one: find out how many U.S. bases AFRICOM has.
Although they try to cover it up, with every new document revealed, we have learned over the years about more bases and military actions. Sometimes that’s due to FOIA requests, other times it’s due to leaked information from things like Fitbits. For example, in 2018 Turse reported for The Intercept on how “Fitness Tracker Data Revealed a Sprawling U.S. Military Base in Niger.”
In 2020 The Intercept got access to some information about these secret bases. And surprise! “The Pentagon’s Own Map of Bases in Africa Contradicted Its Claim of ‘Light’ Footprint… The 2019 planning documents provided locations for 29 bases located in 15 different countries or territories…”
Turse further reported (here, here, and here) that the U.S. is building a $100 million drone base in Niger and stealthily expanding another in Djibouti. Some of these bases are huge and expensive. We’re dumping billions into lily pads from which the U.S. murder machine can hop around. It’s like having an assortment of friends’ couches you can crash on should you need to – except instead of a “couch” it’s a drone base and instead of “crash on” it’s “drop bombs that turn small African towns into rubble.”
Step two: find out how bad the stuff going on at these bases is.
In 2017, Turse found that “Cameroonian Troops Tortured and Killed Prisoners at a Base Used for U.S. Drone Surveillance.” Call me a language stickler, but it’s not a base for “drone surveillance” if it’s a base for torture and killing. If a steady flow of kidnapping takes place in my tool shed, I think that’s a kidnap shed now; the tools are really just ornamental at some point.
Then there are the deaths that seem to follow AFRICOM around like a bad case of herpes or Ryan Reynolds. Did you really think the U.S. could be anywhere without bringing a little death?
As Turse reported in The Intercept in July, the “U.S. Played [a] Secret Role in [a] Nigeria Attack That Killed More Than 160 Civilians.” In the article, Turse discusses how, this past July, “a group of lawmakers from the newly formed Protection of Civilians in Conflict Caucus called on Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to turn over the files on, and answer key questions about, the attack. The Pentagon has so far kept mum.”
Hold on! The Protection of Civilians in Conflict Caucus? Wouldn’t the priority of that caucus be calling for the end of the largest murder machine in the world – the U.S. Military Industrial Complex? Start there and work on the other stuff later.
Those 160 are, of course, not the only AFRICOM-connected deaths.
In 2019, as reported by Turse and Amanda Sperber in The Intercept, “U.S. Airstrike in Somalia Killed Two Civilians, Relatives Say.” The Pentagon knew about those deaths in Somalia & tried to cover them up. So these are just the deaths we’ve found out about.
Step three: find out how many and what type of operations the U.S. is involved in.
I’m sure it’s not many because, from the beginning of AFRICOM, the Pentagon told us it was different from those other U.S. Imperial projects. Turse reported in Inkstick in October, “‘AFRICOM’s focus is on war prevention,’ Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for African Affairs Theresa Whelan said in 2007, ‘rather than warfighting.’”
That’s right, the U.S. brought peace guns to Africa. Not those dirty war guns. That’s kind of like the flask of sobriety whiskey I keep in my coat pocket. It’s equally alcoholic to regular whiskey, but I only use it to create sobriety.
…[R]etired Army Brigadier General Don Bolduc, who served at AFRICOM from 2013 to 2015 and headed Special Operations Command Africa until 2017, … Between 2013 and 2017, he explained, American commandos saw combat in at least 13 African countries: Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Somalia, South Sudan, and Tunisia. U.S. troops, he added, were killed or wounded in action in at least six of them.”
Peace combat in 13 countries! And I’m sure, if you were to really analyze them, those 13 countries are more peaceful than anywhere lacking their peace bombs.
You may wonder, “Is there blowback from these operations?”
Just from 2015 to 2017, at least 10 attacks on American troops in West Africa went completely unreported. So not only is the U.S. engaging in combat, but we’re also being attacked.
Turse goes on, “October 2017, AFRICOM was finally forced to abandon the fiction that U.S. troops weren’t at war on the continent after ISIS militants ambushed American troops in Niger, killing four and wounding two more.”
How about this for a “peaceful” operation? As Turse, Henrik Moltke, and Alice Speri reported in The Intercept in 2018, “The U.S. has conducted 550 drone strikes in Libya since 2011.” Surely that report left out the fact that U.S. intervention in Libya has done great things for that country! Well, that depends on how you define “great” (see this, this, and this). Open-air slave markets are nice because at least they get some air.
Step four: find out how many operations AFRICOM has been involved in.
We don’t know all of them, but, thanks to reporting from Turse, we know that by 2019, there had been at least 36 code-named operations in Africa. That means the U.S. has more military operations going on in Africa than anywhere else in the world, including the Middle East! Even liberal, friend-of-the-state-department Politico called it, “the secret U.S. war in Africa.”
So how exactly do you say AFRICOM has a “light footprint” when – in some ways – it’s the most active “theater” America has going right now?
Sidenote: “Theater” is the nice military term for anywhere they murder people, as if it’s a Shakespearean play or something. “Does a war by any other name not smell as sweet? If we napalm you, do you not bleed?”
How does the U.S. get away with having so many military operations that are never reported on?
Well, many of these Special Operations used foreign military units as surrogates in counterterrorism missions. As Turse and Alice Speri reported in The Intercept, the military uses secretive programs to wage its proxy wars across the continent.
There are at least “…11 of those proxy programs employed in Africa, including one in Tunisia, code-named Obsidian Tower and never acknowledged by the Pentagon, and another with a notoriously abusive Cameroonian military unit connected to mass atrocities.”
Nick Turse, eventually, after years of hounding the Pentagon with calls, emails, and FOIA requests, pieced together a “…network of African drone bases integral to U.S. assassination programs on the continent as well as the existence of a secret network of National Security Agency eavesdropping outposts in Ethiopia.”
That’s right. All told, under AFRICOM – a program that the Pentagon will barely even admit exists – the U.S. military is involved in assassinations, bombings, torture, surveillance, the killing of civilians, blowback deaths of U.S. soldiers, and, of course, cover-ups.
And none of this gets into the deeper reason the U.S. has bases dotting Africa and spreading like a case of acne on a teenager working over the fryer at McDonald’s.
The real reason is not to fight “terrorists” or “evil-doers.” The U.S. government gives aid to 73 percent of the world’s dictators. They give more support to evil shitheads than a bra gives to a plus-size model.
The real reason for AFRICOM is to stretch the U.S. Empire and make sure their missiles, bombs, and drones are ready when they’re really needed. It’s kind of like having police on every corner in much of America. Sure, they say they’re there to keep an eye on things, maybe arrest loiterers and poke the sleeping homeless guy with a stick. That’s all. But we see the real reason for their presence when protests break out. That’s when they show up in their Storm Trooper outfits with their rollerblade knee pads on and start beating the life out of unarmed people.
The real reason cops are everywhere is to protect the status quo of the empire and remind us all who’s boss. The same is true for AFRICOM.
Lee Camp is an American stand-up comedian, writer, actor and activist. Camp is the host of Behind The Headlines’ new series: The Most Censored News With Lee Camp. He is a former comedy writer for the Onion and the Huffington Post and has been a touring stand-up comic for 20 years.