The U.S. Army is again increasing its troop presence in Africa and Latin America
In the U.S., not only the debate about an exit strategy, which was forced during the U.S. presidential election campaign, indicates a reorientation of Washington’s exit policy. Almost simultaneously, the increase in U.S. military presence in Africa and Latin America became public in recent weeks. Massive opposition to the new militarization has emerged from both regions.
Africa moves back into the sights of U.S. military strategists with new high command. Until now, the continent has been under the control of U.S. regional commands for Europe, the Pacific, and Central Command. With the Africa Command (AFRICOM) on 1. October a new unit will start its work. Under the command of General William Ward, the military presence is to be combined with civilian structural measures. But not only the "black continent" is again attracting the attention of US military strategists. In mid-May, the Pentagon had announced the mobilization of the Fourth Fleet. The naval vessel, inactive since 1950, has been reactivated to cruise in international waters off Sud America in the future.
Both decisions met with staunch opposition in the targeted regions. While Latin American nations interpreted the mobilization as a response to strengthening regional integration policies, African governments also suspect the U.S. grip on energy resources in the region is behind the militarization. No one believes the appeasement from Washington so far. In Latin America, they said, it was about the war on drugs; in Africa, it was about the war on terrorism.
General William "Kip" Ward (center), the commander of Africom, with Ugandan officers in April, with the U.S. ambassador to Uganda on the left and U.S. General Andrew Gutti on the right. Image: Pentagon
U.S. Africa Command relocates to Stuttgart, Germany
In the face of political opposition from the region, the first setback for the Africa Command came even before its launch. Contrary to previous plans, the new command cannot be based in an African country or even in a member state of the African Union.
While eight governments are interested in hosting the new regional command, according to Theresa Whelan, the Pentagon’s AFRICOM officer, the U.S. has not yet decided whether to do so. but so far only Liberia has approved the U.S. initiative. The critics were more clearly identifiable. Even leaders close to the USA, such as John Kufour from Ghana and Menes Zelawi from Ethiopia, disapproved of the Pentagon’s advance for the continent. Countries such as Nigeria, Libya and Botswana have openly opposed hosting AFRICOM on the target continent. Meanwhile, in the U.S. itself, African-American government critics founded the Resist AFRICOM initiative. Celebrities like actor Danny Glover or political activist Nicole C. Lee, both members of the TransAfrica Forum, had already spoken out last November in the left-liberal U.S. weekly The Nation:
A stronger US military presence in Africa will certainly serve the exploitation of resources, while certain factions can count on assistance in some of the bloodiest conflicts, which will further destabilize the region.
Danny Glover and Nicole C. Lee
Military planners in Washington are hard-pressed to be impressed by such interjections. The new Africa Command, financed with 400 million U.S. dollars, is scheduled to begin operations on 1 January 2009. October to take up its work. In February, AFRICOM spokesman Vince Crawley had already announced that the new regional unit would not be located on African soil, but at Kelley Barracks near Stuttgart (military and security are top priorities). According to the latest information, 550 of the 1300 members of the command have already been assembled there in mid-June. According to official statements, its task will be to coordinate military cooperation with African forces and to monitor terrorist efforts in Africa from an intelligence perspective. Until a country can be found to host possible AFRICOM U.S. troop deployments, operational work will be carried out from the existing U.S. base at Camp Le Monier in Djibouti. So far, about 2000 soldiers are permanently stationed there.
US warships off South America
Meanwhile, in mid-May, another Pentagon message caused a stir in the Southern Hemisphere. Already from 1. By July, the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet will be deployed to international waters off South America. The unit was originally created in 1943 to intercept German Navy submarines off America. Only seven years later, in 1950, the command was dissolved again. Re-mobilization after 58 years is interpreted by observers as more political than militaristic. By sending the naval unit, the U.S. was trying to provoke the governments and the region and to support espionage projects, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez said. His Bolivian counterpart Evo Morales also sees the decision as a signal "for further aggressions", while former Cuban leader Fidel Castro called the mobilization of the Fourth Fleet a "clear sign in the direction of Venezuela" indicates.
The establishment of the Africa Command is still accompanied by a strategic consideration. U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates’ creation of AFRICOM follows the lead of his predecessor, Donald Rumsfeld, who ordered the "Fight against terror" always wanted to extend to Africa. Although analysts agree that the Fourth Fleet deployment is based on political rather than military considerations, the two initiatives have one thing in common: they make it clear that the era of U.S. absence in Africa and Latin America is coming to an end. The debate in Europe about the withdrawal of the US army from Iraq, which is interpreted as progressive, fits in with this. The forces released there will be needed anew. Either in the Niger Delta, or in the resource-rich states of Sud America as well.