When Pres. Barack Obama took office in January 2009, it was widely
expected that he would dramatically change, or even reverse, the
militarised and unilateral security policy that had been pursued by the
George W. Bush administration toward Africa, as well as toward other
parts of the world.
After one year in office, however, it is clear that the Obama
administration is following essentially the same policy that has guided
U.S. military policy toward Africa for more than a decade. Indeed, the
Obama administration is seeking to expand U.S. military activities on
the continent even further.
In its FY 2011 budget request for
security assistance programmes for Africa, the Obama administration is
asking for 38 million dollars for the Foreign Military Financing
programme to pay for U.S. arms sales to African countries.
administration is also asking for 21 million dollars for the
International Military Education and Training Programme to bring African
military officers to the United States, and 24.4 million dollars for
Anti-Terrorism Assistance programmes in Africa.
administration has also taken a number of other steps to expand U.S.
military involvement in Africa.
In June 2009, administration
officials revealed that Pres. Obama had approved a programme to supply
at least 40 tonnes of weaponry and provide training to the forces of the
Transitional Federal Government (TFG) of Somalia through several
intermediaries, including Uganda, Burundi, Djibouti, Kenya, and France.
September 2009, Obama authorised a U.S. Special Forces operation in
Somalia that killed Saleh Ali Nabhan, an alleged al Qaeda operative who
was accused of being involved in the bombing of the U.S. embassies in
Kenya and Tanzania in August 1998, as well as other al Qaeda operations
in east Africa.
In October 2009, the Obama administration
announced a major new security assistance package for Mali - valued at
4.5 to 5.0 million dollars - that included 37 Land Cruiser pickup
trucks, communication equipment, replacement parts, clothing and other
individual equipment and was intended to enhance Mali's ability to
transport and communicate with internal security forces throughout the
country and control its borders.
Although ostensibly intended to
help Mali deal with potential threats from AQIM (al Qaeda in the
Islamic Maghreb), it is more likely to be used against Tuareg insurgent
In December 2009, U.S. military officials confirmed that
the Pentagon was considering the creation of a 1,000-strong Marine rapid
deployment force for the new U.S. Africa Command (Africom) based in
Europe, which could be used to intervene in African hot spots.
February 2010, in his testimony before a hearing by the Africa
Subcommittee of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Assistant Secretary
of State for Africa Johnnie Carson declared, "We seek to enhance
Nigeria's role as a U.S. partner on regional security, but we also seek
to bolster its ability to combat violent extremism within its borders."
in February 2010, U.S. Special Forces troops began a 30-million-dollar,
eight-month-long training programme for a 1,000-man infantry battalion
of the army of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) at the
U.S.-refurbished base in Kisangani.
Speaking before a Senate
Armed Service Committee hearing in March 2010 about this training
programme, General William Ward, the commander of Africom, stated
"should it prove successful, there's potential that it could be expanded
to other battalions as well."
During the Senate Armed Services
Committee hearing, Ward also discussed Africom's continuing
participation in Ugandan military operations in the DRC against the
Lord's Resistance Army. Despite the failure of "Operation Lightning
Thunder", launched by Ugandan troops in December 2008 with help of
Africom (included planning assistance, equipment, and financial
backing), Ward declared, "I think our support to those ongoing efforts
is important support."
And in March 2010, U.S. officials revealed
that the Obama administration was considering using surveillance drones
to provide intelligence to TFG troops in Somalia for their planned
offensive against al-Shabaab. According to these officials, the Pentagon
may also launch air strikes into Somalia and send U.S. Special Forces
troops into the country, as it has done in the past.
U.S. military involvement in Africa reflects the fact that
counterinsurgency has once again become one of the main elements of U.S.
This is clearly evident in the new
Quadrennial Defence Review (QDR) released by the Pentagon in February.
to the QDR, "U.S. forces will work with the military forces of partner
nations to strengthen their capacity for internal security, and will
coordinate those activities with those of other U.S. government agencies
as they work to strengthen civilian capacities, thus denying terrorists
and insurgents safe havens. For reasons of political legitimacy as well
as sheer economic necessity, there is no substitute for professional,
motivated local security forces protecting populations threatened by
insurgents and terrorists in their midst."
As the QDR makes
clear, this is intended to avoid the need for direct U.S. military
intervention: "Efforts that use smaller numbers of U.S. forces and
emphasise host-nation leadership are generally preferable to large-scale
counterinsurgency campaigns. By emphasising host-nation leadership and
employing modest numbers of U.S. forces, the United States can sometimes
obviate the need for larger-scale counterinsurgency campaigns."
as a senior U.S. military officer assigned to Africom was quoted as
saying in a recent article in the U.S. Air University's Strategic
Studies Quarterly, "We don't want to see our guys going in and getting
wacked...We want Africans to go in."
Thus, the QDR goes on to
say, "U.S. forces are working in the Horn of Africa, the Sahel,
Colombia, and elsewhere to provide training, equipment, and advice to
their host-country counterparts on how to better seek out and dismantle
terrorist and insurgent networks while providing security to populations
that have been intimidated by violent elements in their midst."
the United States will also continue to expand and improve the network
of local military bases that are available to U.S. troops under base
The resurgence of Vietnam War-era
counterinsurgency doctrine as a principal tenet of U.S. security policy,
therefore, has led to a major escalation of U.S. military involvement
in Africa by the Obama administration that seems likely to continue in
the years ahead.
Daniel Volman is the Director of the African
Security Research Project in Washington, DC. He is the author of
numerous articles and reports and has been studying U.S. security policy
toward Africa and African security issues for more than 30 years.