By Wayne Madsen | Strategic Culture
The US Africa Command (AFRICOM), which was created in 2007 to rival its geo-political military structure counterparts – the US Central Command (CENTCOM) and Southern Command (SOUTHCOM) – as a modern version of the British East India Company lording over an assigned swath of continental territory, has turned out to be a gigantic failure and a total waste of taxpayers’ money.
AFRICOM, unlike its equivalents in Tampa, Miami, Honolulu, and Stuttgart, never managed to have its own distinct headquarters but has been forced to share its location in Stuttgart with the US European Command (EUCOM). AFRICOM is located at Kelley Barracks, the former headquarters of Nazi Germany’s 5th Air Signal Luftwaffe Regiment. AFRICOM does not have responsibility for Egypt, which falls under the umbrella of CENTCOM.
Although a few African countries offered up headquarters for AFRICOM, the majority of members of the African Union balked at a permanent US military presence on the African continent. One planned location was near the port city of Tan Tan in southern Morocco, near the border with the Moroccan-occupied disputed former Spanish colony of Western Sahara. In fact, Tan Tan strategically sits between two former Spanish colonies, Western Sahara and the former Spanish enclave of Ifni.
The aborted plans for the Tan Tan base were hammered out between Morocco’s military intelligence service and the Directorate General for External Security (DGED) and the Office of Defense Operation at the US Embassy in Rabat. The Morocco base option, which would have cost $50 billion in construction and start-up costs, has been replaced by a system that transports US troops and support personnel to various African countries for temporary duty as trainers, facility builders, and intelligence gatherers. Among the responsibilities of AFRICOM is “stability operations” in Africa, which the Pentagon cites as a “core US military mission.” This mission is bolstered by the presence of what the Pentagon calls Cooperative Security Locations or “lily pads.” Lily pads include stored caches of weapons, vehicles, and other hardware and are often supplemented by new airfields that can accommodate military aircraft and remotely-piloted vehicles. Lily pads have been constructed in Algeria, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Gabon, Ghana, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Sao Tome and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Tunisia, Uganda, and Zambia.
There has been a proposal for AFRICOM to establish a US Gulf of Guinea Command headquartered in Sao Tome. The command would be responsible for protecting US oil and natural gas companies operating in the region. Although the Gulf of Guinea Command was never established, AFRICOM conducts the annual Obangame Express, which includes maritime security training for forces from Angola, Benin, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo, Cabo Verde, Gabon, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Equatorial Guinea, Liberia, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Sao Tome and Principe, and Togo.
Although AFRICOM is mandated to conduct “stability operations,” there is evidence that the command has engaged in fomenting military coups in Africa. In 2009, a group of Guinean army officers who attempted to assassinate Guinea’s President, Captain Moussa Dadis Camara, were operating under orders of US Special Forces assigned to the US Africa Command (AFRICOM) and French military intelligence personnel. Camara, himself, seized power in a December 2008 coup in following the death of Guinea’s President Lansana Conte.
Camara had apparently signed a deal with China for that nation to take over bauxite mining contracts from US and French companies with the promise that China would refine bauxite into aluminum by building a factory in Guinea. The Americans and French previously exported raw bauxite to smelters abroad. The offer of the Chinese to smelter bauxite in Guinea, with the promise of well-paying jobs for the impoverished nation, was too much for France and the United States and a “hit” was ordered on Camara, using assets in the Guinean military trained by AFRICOM in Guinea, Germany, and the United States.
The National Security Agency, America’s top signals intelligence (SIGINT)-gathering agency, has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in training intercept operators in a number of languages, including those spoken in Africa. AFRICOM has operated a redundant and dual linguist training program, mirroring the NSA program. AFRICOM has spent millions needlessly duplicating the NSA in training speakers and to be fluent in Bemba, Bete, Ebira, Fon, Gogo, Kalenjin, Kamba, Luba-Katanga, Mbundu/Umbundu, Nyanja, Sango, Sukuma, Tsonga/Tonga, Amharic, Dinka, Somali, Tigrinya, and Swahili. This is just one of many examples by which AFRICOM has served as a complete waste of money in duplicative efforts undertaken by other government agencies and elements.
The June 4, 2017 strangling death in Bamako, Mali of US Army Green Beret Staff Sgt. Logan Melgar by two US Navy SEALs, all deployed under AFRICOM’s direction, was linked to Melgar’s discovery that the two Navy personnel were pocketing official funds used by AFRICOM to pay off informants in the West African country. The fraud was yet another example of the culture of malfeasance present among AFRICOM’s ranks.
Such malfeasance was highlighted in 2012 when AFRICOM’s first chief, General William “Kip” Ward, was demoted from full general to lieutenant general. It was discovered that Ward used his top position at AFRICOM for “unauthorized expenses” and “lavish travel,” including a stay at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in McLean, Virginia, the Fairmont Hamilton Princess Hotel in Bermuda, and Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York. Ward traveled with his wife, along with as many as thirteen assistants on several trips, including to Burkina Faso, Senegal, Rwanda, Madagascar, Namibia (where Ward stayed at the Windhoek Country Club), Djibouti, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Uganda, and France with only a few days out of the total itinerary reserved for official business. On some of the trips, Ward accepted meals from businessmen angling for AFRICOM contracts.
Annual AFRICOM training exercises bear titles like African Lion, Flintlock, Cutlass Express, Justified Accord, Phoenix Express, Unified Focus, Unified Accord, and Shared Accord. The exercises involve millions of dollars in travel and lodging costs, all of which provide the opportunity for the type of fraud, waste, and abuse carried out by AFRICOM’s first commander.
In October 2017, four US Army personnel were killed by insurgent forces near the village of Tongo-Tongo in Niger. The Pentagon never adequately explained what sort of “training mission” the Army personnel were carrying out with Nigerien military forces. In February 2016, AFRICOM special forces personnel just happened to be on the scene of an Islamist terrorist attack on the Radisson Blu hotel in Bamako. The previous month, other AFRICOM special forces personnel were on the seen as a reported Islamist terrorist cell attacked the Hotel Splendid and the nearby Ukrainian-owned Restaurant Cappuccino in Ouagadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso. The Bamako and Ouagadougou attacks were similar to the destabilization attacks carried out by right-wing and fascist forces in Western Europe during the Cold War. The “false flag” attacks were blamed on left-wing groups but orchestrated by the Central Intelligence Agency and NATO as part of Operation Gladio and associated covert programs.
AFRICOM primarily exists as a cover for the Pentagon to protect private US economic interests in Africa and ensure that African governments adhere to a pro-US line. However, AFRICOM is being eclipsed by China’s growing influence in Africa, which is welcomed by many African nations. China’s “soft power” entry into Africa makes AFRICOM a bigger waste of money.