African adventure: The Pentagon pursues a costly, risky expansion

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The Defense Department’s Africa Command, created in 2008, continues to expand U.S. military activities in Africa, now in at least 18 countries.

The operations are taking place in Burkina Faso, Cameroon, the Central African Republic, Chad, Djibouti (which hosts a major U.S. base), Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Libya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, the Seychelles, Somalia, South Sudan, Togo, Tunisia and Uganda. The United States has operated drones out of Djibouti, Ethiopia, Niger and the Seychelles. A U.S.-trained officer led a coup d’etat in Mali in 2012.

Last month a U.S. Special Operations force commandeered a tanker in international waters that Libyan rebels were attempting to use to export Libyan oil for their own profit. The armed intervention was carried out at the request of the shaky Libyan government and responded to the desires of American oil companies operating in Libya. A parallel use of U.S. military forces to protect the assets of American oil companies is the guard function they carry out on a pipeline in Colombia, South America.

In March President Barack Obama authorized the insertion of U.S. forces into Central Africa to aid the Ugandan military in so far unsuccessful efforts to track down the Lord’s Resistance Army of Joseph Kony. This action was taken in spite of previous failures to trap the LRA and public criticism of the Ugandan government of President Yoweri Museveni for a law that its legislature has passed and he has signed that is sharply discriminatory against homosexuals.

It is difficult to argue that America has important strategic interests in any of these countries. Absent the agreement of any African nation to the establishment of a U.S. Africa Command headquarters on its soil, it remains based in Stuttgart, Germany.

It is hard to fathom why U.S. military activity is on the rise in Africa, but it may be driven to a degree by Pentagon fears that its budget will be cut in the post-Iraq and post-Afghanistan era, now that Americans are tired of distant wars. The problem is the activity is expensive — planned expansion of the Djibouti base alone is estimated to cost $750 million — and it risks involving the United States in unnecessary military adventures. Someone needs to “red pencil” the expansion before it proceeds further.


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